'Frankie & Johnny' is slow and miscast

May 01, 1992|By Nancy Spiller | Nancy Spiller,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

FRANKIE & JOHNNY

Paramount (1991)

When I first saw this movie, I shared the thoughts of critics who felt Michelle Pfeiffer was too young and too pretty to be the lonely waitress Frankie who faces a last chance at love with Al Pacino's Johnny. But I also thought people would go see it. Heck, it had Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino, enough on-screen magnetism to extract dental fillings from the audience. What's more, it was directed by Garry Marshall, the television-sitcom veteran who proved with "Pretty Woman" that he knew how to make a hit romantic comedy.

We -- Michelle, Al, Garry, Terrence McNally, the writer who adapted his successful stage play "Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune" to the screen, and I -- were wrong. It's not that it's a bad film, but seeing it a second time, I realized it's a slow, talky film that tries to make up in cinematic interludes what it sometimes lacks in writing and direction.

Mr. Marshall does, however, succeed in capturing the feel of working-class New York. And to Ms. Pfeiffer's credit, she leaves the makeup off for the role.

When we first encounter Frankie, on a weekend visit to her mother, her biological clock is ticking. When she returns to her job at a Greek diner in Manhattan run by Nick (Hector Elizondo), her only apparent ambition is to buy a VCR so she'll no longer have to seek male companionship when she feels like dinner and a movie. Meanwhile, Johnny (Al Pacino) is being released from prison. He lands a job as a cook at the diner and is soon in the forlorn Frankie's face.

The thrust-and-parry rhythms of the pursuit get tiring. Frankie softens, she toughens. He's tenacious, she's determined to hang on to her loneliness. She's chronically depressed, he's romantic. In the end, we realize that she's a prisoner of her fears and he wants only to release her.

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