KISSING A FOOL (1998) * 1/2
A wedding is taking place on a splendid suburban estate. Right away, the film starts playing transparent, cutesy-coy little "guess who? guess what?" games with the audience. The groom is not identified. A rather tipsy vulgarian, Linda (Hunt) seems to be a lesser (or uninvited) guest who needs to talk -- to anybody -- but soon reveals that she is the hostess, the owner of the place.
She plays her game with an unprepossessing, dumb-looking fellow and his fiancee, taunting them with the story of Max and Jay. It comes out in episodes.
Jay and Max have been best friends since childhood. You realize instantly the artificiality of this. Jay, a sensitive young man now working on his first novel, cannot get over his having been dumped by his girl Natasha, who became a model, went to Paris, was and still is a tramp. An unlikely couple and another artificial situation. Jay's novel is based on his experiences. Some book!
Max is a popular sportscaster and a stud. When it comes to women, he leaves no stone unturned. He is a foul-mouthed egotist. He has no AIDS, but give him time. He may know about passes, in football games or in bars, but he is abysmally uneducated.
Linda (see above) is a wealthy publisher. She will bring out Jay's book, and assigns to him Samantha ( Israeli actress Mili Avital) as editor, . Jay, for some reason, persists in setting up a date between Sam and Max. Max loudly, coarsely and volubly refuses, but Jay wins.
Cut to a haggard Max knocking on Jay's door with his tale of woe about that date. Cut to Sam doing ditto with a diametrically opposed story. Hey, this might turn out to be a fin-de-siecle "Rashomon" ! It's not. It's just a practical joke.
Max and Sam have fallen in love instantly and plan to marry. Never mind that they are opposites, that Max says "I hate books, she hates sports." Never mind that Max is really an untraveled yokel and Sam a worldly sophisticate. So what's the answer? There isn't one, not any more than there's a key to the impossible friendship between the artistic Jay and the crass Max. I've always thought that the "opposites attract" theory is mucho hooey.
Max moves in with Sam. Three weeks later, he gets cold feet as he ponders about his future as a husband and probably a father. Two big worries. Number One is expressed: will Sam be faithful to him? Number Two is, I guess, subconscious and unexpressed: will, I, Max, have to give up all those chicks?
So Max will test Sam. So Max will ask pal Jay to hit on Sam, then we'll see. By now the film is 35 minutes old.
Jay, that decent, self-pitying soul, won't hear of it. But somehow, as he works closely with Sam on his book, he falls for her, and she for him. They have much in common. Just happens they've both been to that same restaurant in a small Italian town -- and they ooh and aah about it. And other such things. Conveniently too, Max has gone to Detroit on an assignment. With a girl.
Jay and Sam go to a strip-bar where they encounter, of all people, the notorious Natasha back from France. She is now Natassia. Sam, getting closer and closer to Jay, plays the game, introduces herself as Claudette. Jason: : "She is my fiancee." That's wishful thinking.
Let's cut to the chase. There are 3-way confrontations; faithful friend Jay moves to New York; Max moves out of Sam's apartment. Months pass. Jay's book is a big hit, Max gets Jay back to Chicago and reunites him with Sam. We return to the framing story of the wedding of Sam and Jay. Max, dancing with publisher Linda, tells her: "So, you have money. I do too. That's good." THE END
A crass tale? Yes. A perverted variant and great-grandchild of the really romantic Cyrano story? Perhaps.
Max comes to terms with the situation during Jay's stay in the Big Apple, after he (the I-hate-books fellow) has read a book, probably the only one in his life, a gift from Jay. Another colossal improbability. The leather-bound volume is not "The Further Adventures of Superman" or " Sex for TV Personalities" but "Maxims," by the great French moralist La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680). Give us a break! Who's trying to impress whom with "Cultcha." The scriptwriters showing off theirs?
And who could possibly ever but ever believe that the cute, intelligent, educated Sam would fall for the creep Max? And who could possibly ever but ever doubt, that sooner or later Jay and Sam would become an item?
Or, for that matter, that Jay's book is a huge best-seller? (I admit that this is less of a stretch than the rest , since so many bad novels do sell well).
Now, the curious thing is that this dumb movie had some passing attractions and did often keep my attention. Unhealthy curiosity? The sights and sounds of Chicago? Good photography? Frankly I can't tell without seeing it again, in the comfort of my TV screen that is.
One item that did strike me is the magic of the movies. Not special effects but the fact that Mili Avital looked pretty in all the scenes, beautiful in others, very beautiful in others yet. Amazing what lighting, makeup, camera angles, clothing and such can do.
" Le mauvais gout mene au crime" (Stendhal)
Edwin Jahiel's movie reviews are at edwinjahiel.com