'Only You': Begin the beguine, and cue up the cute

October 07, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Some say the world will end in fire and some say ice. I say it'll end in cuteness.

I have it on good authority from a well-known local university's physics department that when the adorable Marisa Tomei and, say, the adorable Hugh Grant are cast in the same movie, there'll be some freak nuclear implosion of cuteness. A black hole will be ripped into the wall of the universe, and all of us, cute like you and un-cute like me, will be sucked into it.

We almost get to that point with "Only You," which in fact has Tomei at the peak of her most cuddly adorability, but spares us global extinction on the basis of the slightly less-cute-than-Hugh-Grant American actor Robert Downey Jr. The movie, directed by Norman Jewison in an attempt to re-create the success of his "Moonstruck," follows as a young woman abandons her stable but somewhat boring life for a chance at true romantic happiness, a possibility offered her by . . . a Ouija board.

Bad mistake. This makes her seem not cute but stupid, particularly as she clings to the name the Ouija board has conjured from age 11 till her mid-20s. Thus it comes to pass that, engaged to a decent but apparently dreary podiatrist (this might be called the Judge Reinhold or the Bill Pullman role, though it's ++ played by John Benjamin Hickey), she takes a message for him from a former classmate who happens to possess the name her Ouija board prestidigitated. Off she goes to Italy in search of the mystically revealed Damon Bradley.

As dippy as the character seems, Tomei comes close to bringing it off. She is soooo-ooo cute. I don't mean that sarcastically, but in literal fealty and admiration. (Imagine her and Meg Ryan in the same movie? Too cute! Another world-ender!) Under the pointedly allegorical name Faith, she races adorably and barefoot around Italy in little-girl frocks, her Audrey Hepburn neck as alabaster and lengthy as a swan's, pouting and snicking and weeping, worshiped by the camera, unchallenged for centrality, always on the track of the ever-vanishing Damon Bradley.

PLOT TWIST ALERT: She is pursued herself. It's not her foot-doc husband-to-be, but a young man played by Downey, who may or may not be Damon, and I purposely obscure plot developments here so as not to ruin all the zany fun.

Alas, there's not a lot of fire between Tomei and Downey. They're too busy trying to out-cuddle each other. It's like the "SNL" parody of "Of Mice and Men" with two Lennies. Each is too busy making baby googoo eyes at the camera to really notice the other. Nothing really drives the movie forward except the all-too-mechanical plotting that throws the characters around Italy like billiard balls on a table.

Diane Drake's script keeps slamming the performers in one door and out the other, along roads, into nightclubs and yachts, through gambits that may or may not be deceits. There's even another plot shoe-horned in, in which a sour-tempered Bonnie Hunt, as Faith's sister-in-law who has grown contemptuous of her husband, must decide whether to give in to the blandishments of a slick Italian seducer (the Joaquim De Almeida who was the impressive villain in "Clear and Present Danger"). There's so much bouncing and rebounding, there's not a lot of room for feelings -- strange in a movie about feelings.

No doubt exists that Tomei is an appealing cinema object. At the same time, she hasn't brought edge to a performance since her Oscar-winning tough gal in "My Cousin Vinnie." She's so busy trying to be a star that she seems to have lost interest in being an actor. Cute is good, but it isn't enough.

"Only You"

Starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr.

Directed by Norman Jewison

Released by TriStar

** 1/2

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