Hollywood has tried to make a weeper without understanding that audiences don't like to be told when to cry.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

What does Hollywood do when faced with filming a sentimental novel? If one cup of sugar made the book sell, two will surely produce a hit movie. Despite the full big-budget treatment, "Message in a Bottle", a confection of death, divorce, and tragedy, based on Nicholas Sparks's novel, crumbles slowly under an excess of romantic cliche. And then there's the familiar problem with a movie produced by and starring Kevin Costner-it carries the unpleasant feel of "Hey world, look at me!" (See "Waterworld", et al.)

Theresa (Robin Wright Penn), a Chicago Tribune researcher and divorced single mom, finds the bottled message during a Cape Cod vacation. Written by a man to his apparently underappreciated beloved, the message sets Theresa's heart pounding. She tracks the poor fellow down in North Carolina, where he is a restorer of boats. As she walks slowly down the dock toward the back of a man scraping a deck, the fellow, already mythical, turns slowly. It is he: Kevin Costner, otherwise known here as Garret. No longer do we have to worry that at the end of the search he might have been too old, too young, too fat, or in any way unsuitable for Theresa. He's perfect.

Except for Catherine, the beloved. Untangling the relationship between Garret and Catherine becomes the focus of the movie, the roadblock to romance, the barrier to resolution. After opening at a fast clip with some fine irreverent dialogue and glorious water footage, the movie settles all too quickly into syrupy beach walks in the fog. And yes, a rainbow materializes on cue. The music soars--an unnecessary exclamation point at all the obvious times. Manipulation has set in. Tightening the screws to make sure we weep, director Luis Mandoki forces us to watch an embarrassingly melodramatic turn of events, one so contrived and inappropriate that we fairly cry out, "Enough!"

Before we get to the good news, how does Mr. Costner fare? He's very good at being laconic. He moves nicely, stares soulfully and, when he speaks only a sentence or two, gives a good portrayal of the deep and silent type. Since Garret is that kind of guy, it isn't until Mr. Costner must read a whole letter aloud that we remember how his flat monotone undermines any script it graces. Garret's father (Paul Newman) says of his son, "That man talks about as much as a fish." In this case, that's a plus.

The good news in this squishy movie is Robin Wright Penn. She's breezy, bright, and manages to avoid looking ridiculous-except when her character is shown rising from computer terminal to newspaper boardroom as reward for writing the story of the message in the bottle. The ocean, the boats, and Paul Newman are all wonderful to see. It's the story that's to blame here. Hollywood has tried to make a weeper without understanding that audiences don't like to be told when to cry.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 495
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : PG-13
Running time : 2h

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