By BRUCE KIRKLAND
Toronto SunMeg Ryan, Betty Boop without a brain on screen, succeeds or
fails on two central premises:
One: That guys will find her ditzy blonde characters seductively engaging
and not just terminally cute;
Two: That gals will find her silliness sympathetic, never stupid, because
she's not a Hollywood bombshell.
On that basis, her new romantic comedy, French Kiss, is both a success
and a failure.
There are moments of pure, unadulterated sass when Ryan is brilliant and
the film's airy mood is sweetness and light. But there are passages in this new
romantic comedy when you just want to crawl into a hole and die. In a story
written by Adam Brooks and directed by Hollywood veteran Lawrence Kasdan of The
Big Chill, Grand Canyon and Wyatt Earp fame (or otherwise), Ryan plays an
American airhead living in Toronto. She is engaged to a Canadian doctor played
by Timothy Hutton. When he jets off to Paris for a conference, leaving her
behind because she refuses to fly, he falls in love with a French siren. He
phones Ryan up and dumps her.
Ryan overcomes her fear-of-flying - in a melodramatic manner of speaking
- and follows to Paris, hoping to win Hutton back. On the flight, her already
traumatized life becomes entwined with a French jewel thief played by - in an
unlikely and unfortunate bit of casting - Kevin Kline, who does a damaged
But the screwball antics are on. Ryan, Kline, Hutton and German-born,
Paris-based model Susan Anbeh engage in a dance of kisses 'n' quips that takes
them from the hotels of Paris to the beaches of Cannes.
Cutting across their paths is a French policeman played by a real
Frenchman, Jean Reno. This movie might have worked wonderfully if Reno and Kline
traded roles. Because French Kiss is all about character and comedy, not plot.
The story is ridiculous, too predictable.
So you have to savor those scenes when Ryan's quirkiness aces us out.
Such as when she trashes the pompous concierge of a Paris hotel in a classic
confrontation of cultures. The French are skewered for their attitude and
arrogance, their Frenchness. In doing so, Kasdan & Co. also tease Americans
for their plebeian tastes abroad.
Less successful is Ryan's visit to the Canadian embassy where the Canuck
jokes function at a kindergarten level - eh? - although they'll still inspire
snickers here because Hollywood usually ignores, not insults, us.
But the movie, and our reactions to its sweet little star, careen wildly
between extremes. One moment we're giggling like couples on a romantic first
date; the next we're glowering with frustration or shrugging with indifference.
This French Kiss is just a peck on the cheek.