Rated R - Running time: 1:33 - Released 2/27/98

I went to this movie expecting it to be another insipid romp with a Friends castmember (in this case, David Schwimmer). I was pleasantly surprised. Kissing A Fool delivers some real acting and humor. But it can't decide whether it's just lighthearted fun or a deep probe into the true meaning of love, and neither can director Doug Ellin.

The movie opens at a wedding, with hostess Linda (Bonnie Hunt) telling a couple of guests the story of the marital couple's meeting and romance. The couple is not clearly shown; we are supposed to guess who's getting married. I won't tell, but anyone who can't figure it out in the first 15 minutes isn't paying attention.

Jason Lee plays Jay Murphy, a novelist who has been dumped by the love of his life and is now writing his tragic story. His childhood friend Max Abbitt (Schwimmer) is a locally famous TV sportscaster who is living the life of a playboy and living it full tilt. But Max's carefree lifestyle comes to an end when he falls head over heels in love with Jay's editor, Samantha Andrews (Mili Avital).

Soon after Max and Sam decide to get married, he gets cold feet, wondering if Sam can be faithful to him. So he wants Jay to get close to Sam and "test" her. Jay wants nothing to do with this, but he can't help that he feels something for Sam. Meanwhile, Sam seems to care for both men; she sleeps with Max but spends most of her time with Jay. Can you guess who's the happy couple yet?

The script for this movie, written by James Frey with help from director Ellin, is inconsistent. For instance, an adult trying to get his best friend to seduce his fiancée in order to test her fidelity is right out of a sophomoric TV sitcom (like Friends, for instance). And the characters are stereotyped, like the lonely writer of beautiful love stories and the jocky sportscaster who "hates books." But the dialogue is written in a no-nonsense style, and Ellin seems to take the story very seriously. There are some rather intense moments, too intense for the silly frat-prank premise.

These actors, particularly Lee, do an astounding job of rising above the script, however. Lee has an incredible sense of spontanaeity, which he showed us in Chasing Amy. His delivery is absolutely genuine. Avital also lends a simple reality to her performance — she is breezy and likeable; we enjoy getting to know her. Schwimmer struggles to be different from his Ross character on Friends, and succeeds — moderately. And Hunt gives us some out-loud laughs as the narrator. Her role is completely unnecessary, but she's so good she justifies its inclusion.

All in all, Kissing A Fool is better than average for a romantic comedy. The soundtrack featuring several snappy numbers by Harry Connick Jr. helps, but I think the lion's share of credit must go to the three leads. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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