In 'Love,' dads divorce in a film that fizzles

March 17, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Bye bye "Bye Bye, Love," I think you're going to die.

Not so much a movie as three bad sitcom pilots in search of a network contract (Fox to "Bye Bye, Love": Drop Dead), the new "divorced dads" film crams farce, hi-jinx, dates from hell, burned casseroles, bald emotion and bad writing into a very long couple of hours. It even has time for commercials: It's mostly set at a McDonald's and those wonderful McDonaldland products are strewn throughout. In fact, if anyone here gets an Oscar nomination, it'll be . . . Ronald McDonald!

Its philosophical premise is not arguable: Divorced dads are people, too. But neither is it particularly remarkable. You think: OK, so?

It chronicles a long weekend in the life of three divorced men who were once a neighborhood set and now, in their glum early 40s, are struggling to cope with loneliness, hectic schedules, terrible guilt and a sense of bitterness as their children find other sources of male nurture. Hey, it goes with the territory.

Apropos of television production values, each character has been milled downward to a single particularly sharp-edged dimension. Paul Reiser is the sad one, Randy Quaid is the angry one and Matthew Modine is the horny one. Of the three, only Quaid is remotely believable, and he's at least treated to the film's only comic highlight, which is an account of his ordeal by date at the hands of Janeane Garofalo, the "SNL" staffer and graduate of "Reality Bites." She plays a self-dramatizing self-important kvetch who turns a dinner date into an extended tour of a circle of Hades Dante never even thought of! But, like everything else in the movie, the timing is off: It's held way too long.

One of my problems with "Bye Bye, Love" may not be one of yours: That's Paul Reiser. Who would cast this sharp-featured little man as Mr. Sensitive? I keep thinking he's going to get me a deal or pitch me a project, not bare me his soul. He also seems to have made a career as an imitation of other people: On TV, he's an imitation Jerry Seinfeld, and here he's an imitation Billy Crystal. I don't like to generalize, but can we agree the earth does not need another Billy Crystal?

Matthew Modine is even less convincing. A shallow pretty boy, he's the lad who can't say no and can't stop asking if. His highlight is an extremely dreary scene of farce where not only is his 22-year-old girlfriend over cooking dinner for him and his kids, but two other extremely attractive divorcees drop in (on his invitation) and he smirkily tries to negotiate the three of them. Not only was this largely unbelievable, it never built toward any real comic payoff.

Now and then "Bye Bye, Love" bumbles toward an epiphany or two. In the beginning -- the McDonald's is the neutral site of choice where spouses exchange children every Saturday morning -- the film is biting and amusing on the topic of clumsy dads forced into Mom's shoes for the first few times. But it quickly veers toward the ridiculous. Reiser, who's been on his own for years, is such an idiot he can't even cook a meatloaf! Quaid gets so darn mad he punches out the shrink on the radio who has been issuing homilies about staying together. Modine tries to pick up anything in skirts.

About halfway through I tried to change the channels to see if "NYPD" or "Seinfeld" was on. The projectionist wasn't amused.

"Bye Bye, Love"

Starring Paul Reiser, Matthew Modine and Randy Quaid

Directed by Sam Weisman

Released by Twentieth Century Fox

Rated PG-13

**

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