Boring 'Mystery Date' provides only mild, sporadic amusement

August 16, 1991|By Bob Strauss | Bob Strauss,Los Angeles Daily News

The title of "Mystery Date" pretty much says it. On their firs date, two nice kids are embroiled in an increasingly alarming mystery.

Tom McHugh (Ethan Hawke, "Dead Poets Society's" sensitive one) is obsessed with the pretty girl down the block, Geena Matthews (Teri Polo), but too timid to approach her. When his "perfect" older brother, Craig (Brian McNamara), pays an unannounced home visit from Stanford Law School, he sets up (( twerpy Tom with Geena in record time.

Craig lends his own trendy jacket and plastic-filled wallet to his little brother. He won't, however, allow Tom to use his ultrarad, classic De Soto convertible. Teen movie contrivances being what they are, Tom, of course, ends up squiring Geena around town in the ragtop.

Despite the requisite spilled drink and awkward small talk, the date goes OK. Gradually, though, Craig's real motivation for helping his brother's love life comes into focus: The older McHugh is a criminal sociopath.

An army of Craig's burned girlfriends, a body in the trunk, a suddenly dead cop, a precinct full of corrupt detectives, a Chinese crime lord ("M. Butterfly's" B.D. Wong, laconically funny in a less-than-enlightened role), a heavy-metal band from Antarctica and an indestructible flower delivery man (Fisher Stevens, not very funny in a role better suited for Wile E. Coyote) all conspire to leave a bad first impression.

They also provide this essentially boring, mistaken-identity caper with enough dark absurdity to keep one awake. Tom has a certain wacky charm, especially when he's schizophrenically trying to keep Geena amused as their situation grows ever more dire.

Once she tumbles to the truth, however, "Mystery Date" downshifts into your average, adolescent fantasy trip. There's little doubt that Tom will overcome impossible odds and get the girl in the end. Director Jonathan Wacks ("Powwow Highway") keeps the movie shiny and swift as that chrome-encrusted De Soto, which could not have been easy through long stretches of Parker Bennett and Terry Runte's overplotted, sporadically clever script.

While nobody's idea of a dream date, "Mystery Date" does provide some mild, undemanding diversion. You've certainly gone out with worse.

'Mystery Date'

Starring Ethan Hawke and Teri Polo.

Directed by Jonathan Wacks.

Released by Orion.

Rated PG-13.

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