'For Richer or Poorer' is simply well done Review: Kirstie Alley- Tim Allen romantic comedy about rekindling the fire of love is a cliche, but a sweet, welcome one.

December 12, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

When a couple starts off a film yelling at each other, you just know they're going to reconcile in the end. The only question is, how?

For Brad and Caroline Sexton, the New York high rollers whose decline and rebound are at the heart of "For Richer or Poorer," the answer is simple.

As in, get simple. As in, lighten up. As in, spend some time among the Amish and see how much you're missing the little things.

Watching as a warring couple realize how much they love each other has been a movie comedy staple since at least "It Happened One Night." And if "For Richer or Poorer" breaks no new ground, it revisits the old with warmth and a pair of likable performers at the top of their game. The result is a trifle, but an enjoyable one.

Maryland audiences should pay special attention, since much of the film was shot in and around Westminster, doubling for the town of Intercourse, Pa. The Carroll County landscape couldn't look any better, and sharp eyes may even spot some local actors in a scene or two.

Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley are the Sextons. He's a crass developer whose latest proposed blight on the urban landscape is a Holy Land theme park, complete with Bedouin Breakfast. She's the shallow wife whose days revolve around spending as much money as possible, especially when friends are around to be impressed.

But their accountant (Wayne Knight) has been less than honest with the IRS, and that leaves them fleeing the Big Apple in a stolen cab, pursued by an overzealous tax cop (Larry Miller, in a performance that should have been toned down a few notches).

They end up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, passing themselves off as Jacob and Emma Yoder, distant cousins of a local Amish family, come for a visit.

The laughs come as these pampered, high-profile socialites struggle to adapt to the Amish ways. Their days begin at 5: 45 a.m. and consist of plowing fields, scrubbing floors, baking schnitz pies and, in Brad/Jacob's case, breaking in a particularly unruly plow horse (a real scene-stealer).

It's all fairly formulaic, as the Sextons somehow find it within themselves to do what needs to be done, even if they rarely miss an opportunity to complain. Their hosts, Samuel and Levinia Yoder (Jay O. Sanders and Megan Cavanagh), find their cousins a little odd but figure that's just because the Missouri Amish are more liberal than their Pennsylvania counterparts. They soon realize that Jacob and Emma are having marital difficulties and resolve to help their "cousins" rediscover what they found so attractive about each other in the first place.

Screenwriters Jana Howington and Steve LuKanic do a nice job of keeping their gentle comedy from devolving into a farce; the Amish don't come off as hopelessly naive, and the Sextons don't come off as hopelessly inept. And director Bryan Spicer ("Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie" and "McHale's Navy") knows enough to stay out of the way.

But the real driving forces here are Allen and Alley, and it's their performances, as well as their chemistry together, that give the picture its charm. No one is better than Allen at playing the blustering male stud who realizes his bravado is all a facade. And Alley, whose penchant for overplaying (with a whiny voice that could curdle milk) is kept refreshingly in check, gives what may be her finest big-screen performance.

'For Richer or Poorer'

Starring Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley

Directed by Bryan Spicer

Released by Universal

Rated PG-13 (language, sexual innuendo)

Sun score: ** 1/2

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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