Roberts-Gere chemistry is magic in more mature romantic comedy 'Runaway Bride'
Julia Roberts and Richard Gere have the kind of spellbound chemistry that can make even a movie riddled with flaws feel like an instant romantic comedy classic.
Like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, Debroah Kerr and Yul Brynner, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, when Roberts and Gere share the screen, there's just no denying something magical is happening between them.
Their eyes lock when they just glance at each other. They crack giddy smiles like they just can't help it. They're drawn to each other like magnets.
This chemistry, which was the only thing that made "Pretty Woman" work at all, is even more incandescent in "Runaway Bride," a much more grown-up romantic comedy about a commitment-phobic, farm-town girl who has a habit of never making it through a wedding march.
Having bolted from three ceremonies before, Maggie Carpenter (Roberts) is in preparation for her fourth attempt at a walk down the aisle when misogynistic USA Today columnist Ike Graham (Gere) writes a vicious article about her from New York, based solely on a story he's told by a guy in a bar (something, by the way, a real newspaperman would never do).
Fired from his job for the piece, he makes for Maggie's rural Maryland town to write an in-depth follow up, with which he hopes to land a gig at GQ, and quickly charms his way into her life by buddying up to her friends, her family and her latest fiance.
The fact that these people would embrace this city slicker who belittled their local celebrity before the nation is one of several nagging quibbles in "Runaway Bride" that are overcome by the Roberts-Gere magic. Even Maggie's reaction to meeting this man is pretty tepid. She's fussy when she should be furious.
But if she ran him out of town, there would be no plot, I suppose, so for a while "Bride" resembles the second act of "In & Out," with the humorously unethical and definitely determined reporter running around the small town getting the skinny on the bride and practically taking bets on the outcome of her impending nuptials.
Directed by the inconsistent and frequently idiotic Garry Mashall, who is also part of the "Pretty Woman" reunion but directed "Dear God," "Exit to Eden" and other crimes against the cinema as well, "Runaway Bride" has many major inconsistencies. The leads have little depth beyond an insatiable ability to call each other on their foibles. Maggie's motives for marriage and for tolerating Ike are never very clear, and Ike isn't as abrasive as he ought to be to make the tension work. Marshall's slapdash rendering of small town America consists largely of quaintness cliches (barber shop quartet, anyone?), and several scenes are absurdly staged.
But by the time Maggie agrees to be interviewed, and the reluctantly romantic sparks begin to fly, none of this matters much, because when Roberts and Gere play meant-for-each-other, there's electricity in the air.
Maggie and Ike become tentative friends and she begins to have doubts about her marriage after he slips her some enchanting amateur Freud on the topic of her commitment evasion techniques. It's all dime novel dialogue, to be frank, but Roberts and Gere are obviously having so much fun in their roles that you can't help but enjoy them, whatever is coming out of their mouths.
Marshall makes up for a lot of bad movies with the unpredictable will-she-or-won't-she climax of "Runaway Bride," which was written by Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon -- the team behind the little-known guilty pleasure chick flick "The Favor" (featuring Brad Pitt in his generic hunk days).
The movie is a little under-ripe, but it boasts a great supporting cast (Joan Cusack, Rita Wilson, Hector Elizando), it's consistently funny (one running gag has Ike being swatted with rolled up newspapers by random angry female readers), and most importantly, its delightfully romantic.
"Pretty Woman" fans who have outgrown their hooker-Cinderella fantasies will appreciate the more mature (but still wonderfully giddy) love story of "Bride," but even stone-hearted fellas who couldn't stand that movie will get a warm fuzzy feeling from this one.