A cop who helps blind people cross the street and won't buy coffee without leaving a tip could never, ever have fallen for Muriel, so their parting is neither funny nor sad, just overdue.
"It Could Happen To You" drops a $4,000,000 lottery ticket into the hands of two undeniably appealing actors, Bridget Fonda and Nicolas Cage. It's tough to beat that premise for light, romantic comedy, and the opening is giddily promising.
Patrolman Charlie Lang stops for coffee and meets Yvonne, a waitress who is having a bad ex-husband day. Fishing for money to pay for coffee and tip, Charlie comes up empty-handed and promises to share his lottery winnings with Yvonne if his ticket is picked, which it is, of course, that very night. The stage is set when she pours his coffee and he watches her with a lingering "I just fell in love with you" look. We settle happily in our seats, sure we have hit a good one.
It is at precisely that moment that Director Andrew Bergman and writer Jane Anderson shoot themselves in both feet by introducing Charlie's wife Muriel (Rosie Perez), a strident woman with an elephantine appetite for money. Perez plays this part in monotone nastiness with the volume turned on high. Just listening to her makes you want to flee the theater, screaming.
When a man brings home a winning ticket and says he is giving half of it to a waitress he just met in lieu of the tip money he didn't have, a wife's wrath could be a mighty funny thing, but Perez' Muriel spins out into a one-note rage that ruins any possibility of humor, let alone fairy-tale magic.
And then there's the matter of Charlie's having married Muriel in the first place. A cop who helps blind people cross the street and won't buy coffee without leaving a tip could never, ever have fallen for Muriel, so their parting is neither funny nor sad, just overdue. His pairing with Yvonne is just right. Gentle guy meets gentle gal. "Repeat after me," he tells Yvonne as she is paying for a cab, "keep the change." But sweet romance doesn't stand a chance in the face of the ravenous tornado who dominates and then kills the movie. Flowers can't grow under the treads of a bulldozer.
Nicolas Cage, a good actor with a fine track record, seems to weary of trying to make himself heard and settles into flatness. Only Bridget Fonda retains the naturalness of the role that was written for Yvonne--a major feat considering that she is acting in a wind tunnel. Wendell Pierce makes Bo, Charlie's sidekick, a warm-hearted charmer whose smile lights the world at the sight of season tickets for the Knicks.
It takes a lot of nerve to imitate the world of Jimmy Stewart and Tom Hanks, where chemistry and subtlety are the ingredients of sweet comedy. A bad imitation is a genuine affront. Cage and Fonda have all the tools for this sort of thing, but I think Rosie Perez has never heard of Frank Capra.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 494
Studio: TriStar Pictures
Rating: PG 1h41m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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