'One Fine Day' is one long 112 minutes

December 20, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

As a documentary on the possibility of physical perfection on Earth, "One Fine Day" offers Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney as exemplars that advance the argument to its most unassailable position. They are so stunning to look at that it comes to feel positively indecent, as if one is peeking through a hole in the cloudy floor of Olympus.

On the other hand, as an argument that movie comedy is largely dead in America, the movie is also pretty unassailable. It's so routine and predictable it grows quickly wearisome, its inventions are thin and its wit is witless. You feel the clumsy manipulations coming hours in advance, and when they come, they seem to take forever to finish.

The two stars are single parents, Manhattan style. She's an architect, struggling to stay afloat in a highly competitive firm while supervising her excessively cute 5-year-old son (Alex D. Linz). On this particular fine day, she's got to make an important presentation to a client. Will something squish her mock-up? I'm just guessing here, but I bet it does!

As for Clooney, he's a Breslin-styled cityside columnist on the Daily News whose career is on the line because a source has disavowed some exclusive information. So on this same fine day, he's got to come up with new evidence, or the paper'll have to print a big retraction. But first he's got to get his excessively cute daughter (Mae Whitman) to school.

And, of course, this is the fine day of the field trip. And, of course, he forgets to call a neighbor of his ex-wife who had volunteered to take his daughter to the trip, so when he misses the boat (literally) she misses it, too. And she's stuck with her kid. And she's Michelle Pfeiffer.

Thus this reluctant foursome -- two single parents, two children -- is conceived in incompetence and hostility. It's the opposite, I suppose, of the old Hollywood trope of meeting cute. It's meeting angry, a reflection of the current state of war between the sexes and all the work that must be done to hammer through the armor of assumptions that each has about the other.

That's pretty much the thrust of the movie. Gradually, as they struggle to balance career and child-rearing, the two bumble toward some kind of mutual respect, which may permute into real love at some unspecified point, while at the same time struggling cutely with the career impediments before them. The work background is never convincing: Her "model" looks like one of those punch-out and insert perforation kits of Tomorrowland. And what kind of newspaper columnist is he? Why, he the kind that never writes a column, just shows up at news conferences with a witness to hector the mayor.

Underneath it all, there are some odd uglinesses. For some reason the movie is in one respect conceived as a comeuppance to Pfeiffer's character, presented as one of those "perfect American girls" who never comes unflapped, unglued or unhinged (or unstrapped, for that matter) and has a great deal of contempt for Clooney's shaggier style of child and career management.

This is viewed as pathological -- correctable, but pathological. Ultimately, she commits the largest indiscretion possible: She loses his kid, and we run through a few nightmare minutes of child-in-jeopardy games so she can contemplate the ultimate hell and learn that nobody's perfect.

Perhaps if "One Fine Day" were funnier, it would be easier to take. But I'd settle for shorter. This is an extremely feeble enterprise to wend onward for almost two hours. The planes of Pfeiffer's face and the hulking Kowalsky-like magnetism of Clooney get you into it and keep you amused for about half that. Then time slows down, the seasons change, the Earth falls into the sun, the universe dies, it is born again, billions of years pass, evolution commences, and you step outside the theater in exactly the same place as you left it, except that a certain 112 minutes has forever vanished!

Pub Date: 12/20/96

'One Fine Day'

Starring Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney

Directed by Michael Hoffman

Released by Twentieth Century Fox

Rating PG

Sun score **

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