Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Strange Bedfellows

By Devin D. O'Leary

OCTOBER 18, 1999:  When you think about it, really, all love affairs are the product of random chance. When you calculate the odds of two people meeting on a planet crammed with some 6 billion souls, when you factor in all the elements that went into bringing two people together at the same time in the same place in order to meet, when you add up all the dumb luck that goes into keeping them together for any measurable amount of time, you realize that the chances of two people falling in love are virtually impossible. And yet, somehow, they do it all the time -- which, in a way, is part of the problem with Sydney Pollack's new film, Random Hearts.

Loosely based on Warren Adler's 1984 novel, Random Hearts posits the theory that under the most extreme of circumstances it's a miracle that people should fall in love. How's this for extreme? ... Dutch Van Den Broeck (Harrison Ford) is a cop. Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a congresswoman. The two meet when their respective spouses are killed in an airplane crash. Before long, two and two are put together and it's discovered that Dutch's wife and Kay's husband were having an affair. Isn't it bizarre that something like this should bring people together? I mean, what are the odds? ... Well, about the same as the odds of any two people meeting under any circumstances.

Ford and Scott Thomas are both very appealing actors. And it's certainly refreshing to see a mature love story for a change. Too bad Pollack (the man behind Out of Africa, Tootsie and other modern classics) decided to set the film's pace a notch or two above "mature." At two hours and 20 minutes, Random Hearts is practically "geriatric." The plane crash, the adulterous behavior -- those things are all part of the background. What viewers get is some stiff-upper-lip grieving and a bunch of repressed emotions. Eventually, Dutch and Kay start thinking of repeating the sin of their spouses. But, honestly, there's no surprise at all that these two characters would hook up. They've both just lived through a great tragedy (the death of a spouse), they've both just learned a painful secret (that their spouses were adulterers), and they're both riding high on an emotional roller coaster. If these two people didn't seek solace in each others arms, it would be incredibly surprising.

With little doubt that these two should and will get their swerve on, then, the film tries to throw a couple of romantic roadblocks in their way. But in both cases, the obstacles are sincerely weak. Apparently, Kay (who's up for re-election) and her handlers (including Sydney Pollack in his usual on-screen cameo) are mortified that the press might find out the truth about her husband. So what? In this day and age when the president of the United States can have sex with an intern in the Oval Office and see his approval ratings soar, exactly what kind of smear campaign could even the most vicious of spin doctors make out of the fact that a congresswoman's dead husband cheated on her? For his part, Dutch gets his own equally irrelevant obstacle. He's in the midst of investigating some ill-defined case of police corruption. The cop he's investigating gets mad at one point and comes gunning for him -- a climactic crisis that would seem unbelievably contrived if it weren't so completely minor.

What we're left with are huge, slow-moving tracks of film in which Ford and Scott Thomas hem and haw, act emotionally brittle and generally seem uncomfortable around one another. There's never any point at which these would-be lovers actually relax with each other. Yes, it's a realistic and believable response considering what they're going through, but it's an odd basis for a romantic film. The audience is always kept at an arm's length, never being allowed to fully sympathize with Kay or Dutch, who never manage to work up the courage or emotional conviction to demonstrate anything resembling passion. Viewers are ultimately stranded with a pervading discomfort at this wounded couple's dysfunctional mating ritual.

On the plus side, Random Hearts is an intelligent film -- smartly scripted, carefully acted. Some viewers may appreciate an adult movie that isn't tricked up with violence, explosions and unseemly sex. It certainly isn't frivolous. But a little frivolity might have leavened the dour proceedings a bit. For all its soul-searching, heart-rending and middle-aged angst, Random Hearts is curiously lacking in impact. For a film so obsessed with the capricious whims of love, Random Hearts remains distant, sober and surprisingly unaffecting. What are the odds?

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