Directed and written by Don Roos. Photography, Robert Elswit. Editing, David Codron.Production design, David Wasco, Music, Mychael Danna. Produced by Steve Golin, Michael Besman. Cast: Ben Affleck, (Buddy Amaral), Gwyneth Paltrow (Abby Janello), Joe Morton (Jim Weller), Natasha Henstridge (Mimi) ,Tony Goldwyn (Greg Janello), Alex D.Linz (Scott Janello), David Dorfman (Joey Janello), Jennifer Gray (Janice Guerrero), Caroline Aaron (Donna Heisen) et al. A Miramax release.106 minutes. PG-13
In "The Opposite of Sex" (1998) his first film as both director and scenarist, writer Don Roos had composed an offbeat, blackish comedy. Now, in his second feature, he gets closer to the melodrama-for-TV genre, which is acceptable but even without commercials tends to become a yawner.
Los Angeles hotshot advertising executive Buddy (Affleck), having closed a great contract in Chicago, is flying home. As bad weather makes for delays and cancellations at O'Hare, Buddy kills time at an airport bar, garrulously chatting with two strangers: Greg (Goldwyn) who is anxious to get back to his wife and kids in L.A., and sexy businesswoman Mimi (Henstridge) who is going to Dallas.
Even in the age of AIDS, brief encounters are tempting. When, with the briefest economy of means, Mimi signals Buddy that a night of sex would be welcome, he generously gives his ticket to grateful Ben. But the Infiniti Airlines plane crashes.
The film, moving from fast sex to the old twist of mistaken identity, switches to the confusion of who's who and to the agony of Ben's wife Abby (Paltrow). Those sequences are effective. So are those of Buddy who is suffering from massive survivor's guilt.
Matters become colorfully dramatic. The airline, which happens to be a client of Buddy's firm, has it produce outrageously and phonily sentimental TV commercials which mourn the crash victims - for PR reasons of course. The commercials are revolting, both to us and to Buddy whose personal involvement make him aware of their crass nature for the first time in his career no doubt. With its additional mix of business and ad-people's lingo, the script scores good points as an expose.
Alas, artificiality sets in. Buddy now drinks heavily. He attends a major do of publicity firms. He gets top honors for "his" airline commercial. His drunken acceptance speech points the finger at his trade. It's too much, too phonily Hollywood.
Buddy undergoes a cure for drinking. Cut to some time later. Permanently sober, Alcoholics Anonymous member Buddy is back in business.
He feels compelled to do something for Abby, the widow he has never met. Guess what? Right. She turns out to be attractive, appealing in the awkward, rookie ways she tries to sell real estate. She says she is a divorcee. Why? That's what gave me the most food for thought. Is it a sign of the times that a divorced person is more appealing to the opposite gender than a widowed one? Is there a curse on people whose spouses have died? And to think that the 1934 Astaire-Rogers musical "The Gay Divorcee" came from the play "The Gay Divorce" but the Hollywood Code demanded the change!
Abby has no idea of what connects Buddy with her husband's death. He keeps mum on that subject. But guess what again? The two are mutually attracted. Buddy gets her a big deal with his firm. He likes her is good with them --the old cliché. Their relationship escalates to love. They kiss at 50 minutes into the movie.
I hate to say it, but up to now, save for some sequences, the film has been dull. The twosome's episodes have been played in the lowest key of anything I remember on the screens of the AD. 2000. This would have been a virtue, had the script managed to combine it with discreet psychological excitement. But even when at 70 minutes the big crisis comes, the movie stays dull.
The performances are, grosso modo, competent, even good. But the basic situations and developments remain artificial and unconvincing. Not the least aspect of this is a courtroom twist in which the stewardess who had originally accepted Ben's gift boarding pass and ticket is being chastised.
Next time a nice flight attendant breaks a rule in your favor, think twice before asking her or him.