Runaway Bride (United States, 1999)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

For years now, there have been discussions about a sequel to the surprise 1990 romantic comedy blockbuster, Pretty Woman. Aside from once again propelling Roy Orbison's title tune up the pop charts, that film had the distinction of establishing Julia Roberts as an A-list star. When Pretty Woman was released, she was hardly an unknown, having already appeared in the likes of Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias, but her on-screen interpretation of a modern-day Cinderella rocketed her into a higher orbit. Pretty Woman turned into a box office favorite (making nearly half a billion dollars worldwide) and has since become a video staple.

Ultimately, the involved parties could not agree on a storyline for the long-anticipated sequel, so they went in another direction, re-uniting director Garry Marshall with his two leads for Runaway Bride, an uninspired romantic comedy about a commitment-fearful woman (Roberts) who spars with, then falls for, a cynical writer (Richard Gere). The best thing the movie has going for it is a built-in audience; there's not much in the screenplay, which follows the expected formulas, to get excited about. Little that transpires during the course of Runaway Bride is credible and, although some suspension of disbelief is necessary for nearly every love story, this film stretches things too far. Only die-hard romantics will find any charm beneath Marshall's often inept manipulation.

The saving grace of Runaway Bride is Julia Roberts, whose sparkling smile and shining personality rescue individual scenes - although she can't save the project as a whole. Roberts gives a genuine, heartfelt performance while everyone else drifts through on autopilot. Richard Gere is as flat as usual (although, to be fair, he is more animated than in Pretty Woman, where he could have been mistaken for a mobile telephone pole). His low-key approach doesn't serve his character well, and the lack of energy is especially noticeable in his scenes with Roberts. She carries them, and the chemistry that was evident in Pretty Woman is seen here only in short, erratic spurts - not enough to build a romance on. It's also worth noting that, with his white hair and haggard visage, Gere looks more like Roberts' father than a potential husband. These two are less believable as a screen couple than Catherine Zeta Jones and Sean Connery (primarily due to Connery's overabundance of charisma - something that Gere lacks).

The story opens in New York City, where hotshot USA Today columnist Ike Graham (Gere) is seeking an inspiration for his latest "bitter diatribe about women." He finds it in a familiar watering hole, where a disillusioned man tells him about Maggie Carpenter (Roberts), a young woman in rural Hale, Maryland who has left three men at the altar and is now preparing to try for a fourth time. Relying exclusively on the man's tale, Ike submits a one-sided piece riddled with inaccuracies. Several days later, when an irate letter arrives from Maggie, Ike is fired. However, a friend promises him the chance to publish an article in GQ if he can get the real scoop on Maggie and perhaps catch her in the act of jilting a fourth husband-to-be. So Ike heads south, ingratiates himself with the locals, and begins to follow Maggie around town. At first, she is irritated by his unwanted attention, but, as the two get to know each other better, a strange thing happens. Ike becomes Maggie's staunchest defender and she begins to wonder if her perfect man is really the one she intends to stand next to during the ceremony.

In general, I'm a sucker for love stories, but I never accepted the relationship between Maggie and Ike. These two should despise each other. The wounds they have dealt out should result in a War of the Roses, not a Pretty Woman 2. If a man wrote a slanderous article about me, my family and friends would not greet him with open arms. And if a woman got me fired and ruined my reputation, I wouldn't follow her around, trying to find out what makes her tick. Some contrivances are expected in a motion picture like this, but Runaway Bride mounts one upon another until, like a poorly balanced house of cards, they all come tumbling down.

There isn't a real character in this film, and that's one of its most serious flaws. The leads act as they do because they're responding to the demands of the plot. Their every action is determined not by the requirements of human nature, but by the need for a certain number of complications before the happy ending. The supporting players have even less integrity or reason for being. Maggie's best friend Peggy (Joan Cusack) is on hand for comic relief and Bob (Paul Dooley) serves no purpose beyond being the primary romantic stumbling block that keeps Maggie and Ike apart until the movie's final quarter. Frankly, the only one I cared about was Maggie, and that was more because of Roberts' performance than anything found in the script.

There are other things that annoyed me about this film. The dialogue in particular is a sore spot. The conversations in Runaway Bride are tedious; the characters speak in cliches and rarely have much to say that's of interest to each other or the audience. Then there's the ending... While I won't reveal the specifics here, suffice it to say that I despised the plot contortions of the final fifteen minutes. This kind of stuff isn't new to the genre, but it's especially irritating in the way it's presented here.

As a satire or a black comedy, Runaway Bride could have teemed with promise. As a feel-good effort, it's a bust. Director Garry Marshall does not have the track record to inspire confidence. One glance at his recent resume, which includes the likes of The Other Sister, Dear God, and Exit to Eden, reveals a filmmaker who should not be allowed behind the camera. With Runaway Bride, he delivers what we have a right to expect - a clumsy motion picture that strives so hard for the perfect romantic ending that it triggers a gag reflex along the way.

Runaway Bride (United States, 1999)

Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 1999-07-30
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1