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Forces Of Nature  

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck, Maura Tierney, Steve Zahn, Blythe Danner, Ronny Cox Directed by: Bronwen Hughes Written by: Marc Lawrence

"Forces of Nature" tells the story of two people brought together and kept together by a vast array of "natural disasters" -- fires, hail storms, hurricanes, even an unfortunate bird flying in the wrong air space at the wrong time. Is it fate? I view it more as a cinematic necessity, seeing as though the two people involved probably wouldn't find each other even remotely attractive under any other circumstance.

The movie seems to teeter between being a dark comedy and a bittersweet romantic comedy. It's neither. That's the problem. The humor isn't sharp, witty or cutting-edge enough to make the film "dark", and there's no chemistry whatsoever between the two leads which doesn't bode well for it's attempt at being a romantic comedy.
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The story centers around Ben Holmes (Affleck), a book jacket copywriter who is on his way to Savannah, Georgia to marry the woman of his dreams. Her name is Bridget (Maura Tierney), and she is beautiful, sensitive, and intelligent -- those qualities demonstrated early on when she confesses her love for him while at the same time admitting she's scared about the future. Despite his seemingly perfect situation, Ben is constantly bombarded with advice from friends, family members, and even strangers warning him about the trials and tribulations of marriage. As if all the advice weren't enough, when the plane he boards begins it's takeoff, it suddenly experiences a technical problem and careens off the runway. Shaken but not badly injured, Ben insists on getting to Savannah, albeit by some other mode of transportation. At the airport, he meets a young drifter named Sarah (Bullock) heading to the same destination, and they decide to travel together.

The rest of the movie cuts back and forth, between Ben and Sarah trying to get where they need to go, and Bridget and her parents (Blythe Danner and Ronny Cox), as they grow increasingly anxious about whether the groom will make it on time. This is all familiar territory, and the film doesn't throw us any curves - it's pretty routine stuff. (For example, when Sarah and Ben masquerade as a condominium-hunting married couple to board a bus for Miami and Sarah introduces him as a doctor, you know it's only a matter of time until one of the passengers needs medical attention and it's up to the "doctor" to save the day.)

The question the movie seems to be asking isn't whether marriage is "worth it", but whether the Ben Affleck character has truly lived life to the fullest. This unusual young woman has seemingly opened his eyes to a whole new world and a whole new way of looking at things, and now Ben must decide if the life path he is on is the one he should be on. I have a couple of problems with this scenario. The first is an issue of credibility. The character of Sarah has supposedly tasted some of the worst life has to offer. Sure, she's made wrong turns along the way, but hasn't exactly been dealt a decent hand. As played by Bullock, though, Sarah doesn't come across as hard-edged as someone like that would. At times, she's more like a goofy teenager. Also, the "adventures" that free Ben from his routine life really aren't that outlandish. (In one scene, they bum around a K-Mart department store, communicate to each other on cute little pink and purple walkie-talkies their views on marriage and it's similarities to shopping. After two minutes of this, I wouldn't be questioning my vows, I'd be running for that altar.)

But perhaps the biggest distraction is the lack of chemistry between Bullock and Affleck. The scenes where the two of them appear to be falling for each other have a laborious feel to them. How laborious? Consider the scene where they fight in their hotel room. It is curiously arranged in the plot so that Bullock takes her wet clothes off as the two of them argue. (In the previous scene, they jumped into the pool to avoid being "caught" by one of Ben's friends.) They continue arguing until Bullock, with her clothes off, perches herself atop the bed. Why? Apparently for no other reason except so Affleck can give in to his "attraction" and kiss her when the plot needs him to. Scenes like that clearly show that even the filmmakers themselves don't believe the chemistry exists.

The film was directed by Bronwen ("Harriet the Spy") Hughes, who has an unusual visual style. She likes using numerous lighting and editing techniques, in addition to placing the camera at many different angles. I get the feeling that with good material to work with, she could probably put together a decent black comedy. And the actors are all likable and have shined in much better films. The central problem here is the material itself. It really says something about a movie plot when fires and hurricanes and lightning and thunder and hail can all mysteriously conspire to keep two people together and the part of the story that lacks credibility is the romance itself. Someone should have let Mother Nature in on the secret.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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