ADDICTED TO LOVE *** 1/3
Astronomer Sam (Broderick) works in some unnamed rural area, worries when his schoolteacher forever-love Linda decides to accept a brief educational assignment in New York City. In one of the several scenes that require a leap of faith, he waves at her from his truck as he follows the airliner she's in on the tarmac. Don't try this at home.
In another jolt, but this time wonderfully screwy, as Sam prepares to welcome back Linda, he gets instead her father reading him a Dear John letter. Linda has found a new love. Sam goes bananas with worry, but I felt that things were looking up. (Much later the same gentleman has an amusing reprise of a different Dear John letter).
After the fastest packing job in film history, Sam flies to the Big Apple, begins to search for his lady-love and, improbably, locates her in SoHo where she shares the apartment of her new amour Anton. Improbably (again!) Sam finds a racked-and-ruined space in a condemned building just across from Anton's.
Accumulating impossibilities, our jilted hero sets up a camera obscura to spy around the clock on the new twosome. This requires an explanation. If you know about the development of photography, you may be familiar with the camera obscura principle, one that dates back many centuries. Imagine a room like a big cube. You make a small hole in one wall. This acts as a lens and projects what it "sees" outside on its opposite wall. Some painters used this trick ages ago, and later this became the primitive "pinhole" camera.
The wall picture is upside down, but since Sam knows all about optics he Rube Goldbergs a lens system that rights the picture up on the wall he has just painted white. The final result is a Peeping Tom's (or Sam's) voyeuristic-masochistic super-gizmo that the audience must take on faith.
Next a mysterious motorcyclist, helmeted hence faceless, shows up in Sam's loft. To no one's surprise, the biker is Maggie, the jilted fiancee of Anton's. A photographer, collage and, somehow, audio expert, Maggie teams up with Sam and adds sound to images by bugging Anton's place.
Both Sam and Maggie are cuckoo. Sam, a scientific whiz but a rube in matters of the heart, is convinced that Linda's infatuation will wane. He sets up weird charts on which, with self-deluding hope, he follows Linda's symptoms, such as the diminishing (he thinks) intensity of her smiles. He's willing to wait until Linda sees the light.
Maggie however wants Anton "vaporized," needs revenge, impure and un-simple. She's like a maenad, but even as a Gorgon with snakes for hair, Meg Ryan would still be Miss Cute Universe -- notwithstanding grungy leopard blouses, black-rimmed eyes, coarse vocabulary and all. But she is certainly stretching her film persona and doing it very well. (You'll find that as matters advance, Maggie's looks get gradually un-grunged and her speech un-coarsened).
Even before the movie starts it is a given that the Ryan-Broderick duo will turn into a cooing couple, that their initial aims and tactical differences will result in harmonious co-conspiracies. No matter how you cut it, they make an nice couple, in love and war. Unlike Ryan, Broderick is not cast against type, since, in so many of his roles, he has been a rather quiet reactor rather than a flaming personality.
At some point between the setting up of wild gadgetry and the Maggie-Sam rapprochement, the movie makes you disregard disbelief. Instead, it begins to captivate and amuse you, to enjoy its cleverness and chain of surprises, to make you conscious that there's more originality than meets the eye.
In the other couple there is a nominal imbalance that plays with, then goes against, movie cliches. Linda is your film-typical wide-eyed beauty who has lost her heart and mind to a wily Latin lover, Anton, the owner of a new French restaurant. For a long stretch, he is your movie-typical flashy, suave, self-assured French seducer whose affair with Maggie seems to have been a ploy towards legal U.S. residence -- the Green Card syndrome. Yet as the story proceeds, we find out that Anton may be a hustler but he is not a heel or a villain, not one-dimensional, and above all, not untouched by love.
Tcheky Karyo,a heavy in "La Femme Nikita" and other films, becomes here a splendidly comic figure, a man whose panache obscures feelings that are complex yet do not include complexes. In an improbable but beautifully written kitchen sequence (which doubles as gentle mocking of American xenomania), he tells his admiring staff about his rise from a simple cafe waiter in Paris to an entrepreneur in New York. In the New World, a French accent, piling on the sophistication, having a culinary lexicon, audacity, brashness (or chutzpah) have made him a glamorous figure and opened Horatio Alger possibilities.
Maggie and Sam feel increasingly comfortable together. In fact, as they sit on a sofa and watch the wall-movie of Linda and Anton they seem to enjoy it the way the silhouettes do in Mystery ScienceTheater 3000, without the latter's obnoxious comments. And as they plot anti-Anton activities, you almost feel that the fun of the tricks proper is bigger than the perpetrators' original aims. There's improbable, off-the-wall inventiveness at work here. Such as discrediting Anton in Linda's eyes by (don't ask) having a monkey mark the Frenchman's shirt with lipstick, or kids squirt-gun expensive perfume on him.
Those guerilla tactics expand when Sam infiltrates Anton's life, taking a job as a dishwasher, becoming the model employee, getting appreciated by Anton --and then ruining the restaurant by (literally) bugging it. (Writer-reporter Dominick Dunne, the director's father, has a cameo as a food critic).
Unexpectedly, what hurts Anton's soul most is the loss of Linda. What hurts his body is a devastating allergy inflicted by Maggie, followed by broken bones inflicted in a mix-up by Sam, by now sort of a pal . The suffering Gallic sophisticate has, at this point, become the most interesting figure of the movie. Though this is not quite a "noir" comedy, it is transformed into high-energy slapstick with all the ingredients of farce : raucousness, physicality and funny cruelty.
An interesting point is that the only product-placement item in this film is the Leica M-series camera -- as classy and fine an item as can be. It is symbolic of the movie's own smooth elegance and mechanism once you get past the unlikely bits.
Actor-producer's Griffin Dunne's first directed feature may have started out as a potential loser but ends up as a clear winner. Photography, sets and all production values do justice to the maverick, novel, first produced feature script by Robert Gordon, one that took over seven years to reach the screen.