'Bed of Roses' never blooms Movie review: Actors walk through roles that demand too much of them -- or not enough.

January 26, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Bed of Roses" is all fertilizer and no flower.

A romance between the walking wounded in the wars of the heart, it never really convinces of its reality nor engages with its characters. What slight charms it has are beaten away by a scheme of manipulativeness that leaves one feeling rather used.

To begin with the film's weakest element, poor Mary Stuart Masterson is wildly overmatched by a role that demands her to be first of all a cunning, disciplined business woman; second of all, a former abuse victim suffering from doubt and fear of intimacy; and last of all, a woman liberated by the enchantment ** provided by a new lover.

In none of these departments is Masterson compelling. She doesn't have the technique to suggest duality or ambivalence, the yin-yang of complex emotions. But then the thing is so thinly imagined, not even the young Meryl Streep could have brought such a collection of neuroses to life.

As "Bed of Roses" has it, Masterson is a high-powered business exec, a newly minted vice president no less, on the fast track but with no private life to speak of. One day at the office, she receives a beautiful floral arrangement and knows immediately that her on-again, off-again yuppie boyfriend is incapable of sending such a thing. Shouldn't she have noticed that the delivery boy was Christian Slater?

Slater, playing a muted role, puts aside his best things -- his wolfish grin, his feral slyness, the intelligence that beams from those dark eyes, his cocksureness -- and comes across as a one-dimensional oddball named Lewis. It seems he, too, has a tragic back story that leaches the life and energy from his performance.

The movie requires that we put aside our squeamishness about Lewis' weirdness -- after all, he's been stalking her for a while, he spies on her -- and buy into him as just what the doctor ordered. He gulls her into spending a couple of days with him to convince her of his wonderfulness (thoughtfully, her boss has just ordered her to take a couple of days off).

They deliver flowers together! They go for walks under the Central Park trees together. They visit his rooftop garden together! They front for bad disco music performed by groups you've never heard of together! S'wonderful, S'marvelous, S'---oops. S'vomit on my lap!

The movie also shunts into overdrive to establish credentials for Lewis; he can't be "just a flower delivery man," for by the rigid class structures of mid-cult romantic movie making, he'd be beneath her. As these developments insincerely transpire, one can listen to the tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of a scriptwriter's gears being shifted.

The dialogue is lame and the co-equal tragedies -- she was not only abused as a child but told "she didn't have a birthday"; he was a workaholic who wasn't there when his wife perished during childbirth (nobody dies during childbirth anymore!) -- make them both seem more like candidates for Prozac prescriptions than natural-born lovers.

Only Pamela Segall, as Masterson's best friend, has any real energy or likability. "Bed of Roses" is no bed of petunias.

'Bed of Roses'

Starring Mary Stuart Masterson and Christian Slater

Directed by Michael Goldenberg

Released by New Line Cinema

Rated PG

Sun score: **

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