'Bride' Ain't 'Pretty'

Julia Roberts…Richard Gere…Hector Elizondo…a Garry Marshall film. Would Runaway Bride be a sequel to Pretty Woman?

No, the filmmakers clarify-it's a re-teaming. Still, the entertainment media scoffed. Ha! Runaway Bride will just be Pretty Woman in a wedding dress, they guessed.

Instead, Runaway Bride did indeed wind up being something completely different. Pretty Woman was good. Runaway Bride is not.

Runaway Bride testifies to the volatility of on-screen chemistry. One movie you have it; the next movie you don't. On the one hand, you have to admire Roberts, Gere, and Marshall for trying on some new characters and screenwriters. On the other hand, they failed.

Richard Gere plays Ike Graham, a man so obnoxious, intrusive, and hardened that it strains the imagination to see how he could ever fall for anyone let alone that anyone could fall for him. Julia Roberts' Maggie Cooper, meanwhile, is quite a ways from being a fully formed character-this said while keeping in mind that she's supposed to be wishy-washy. Together, they threaten to form a couple you don't want formed.

Ike, a columnist for USA Today (in some heavy product placement), has an hour to come up with and write a column for the next day's paper. At the local watering hole, he prays for inspiration. Since this is a movie, there just happens to be a man at the bar who starts ranting about Maggie Cooper, a woman in his Maryland hometown known as "the runaway bride." She gets engaged to guys only to ditch them at the altar. Based on this, Ike writes a woman-bashing column, holding up Maggie as public enemy number one.

Now, let's stop here for just a moment. No established journalist-make that, no journalism school graduate-would bash a private citizen by name and in print on the word of a total stranger. That's called a potential libel suit. Ike never makes a single phone call to verify the stranger's story; he just runs with it. Could movies like this be the reason America hates reporters more than lawyers? (Lord knows, Hollywood does. But then, being tabloid fodder, you can't blame them.)

Back in UnrealisticallyOldFashionedSmallTown, USA, Maggie reads Ike's assault on her and writes back to the editor with an assault of her own, flagging the piece's many inaccuracies. The film regains a speck of credibility when Ike's editor (who follows the new entertainment cliché of being his ex-wife) learns of Ike's ethical lapse and fires him. (After all, how could USA Today lend its name if she doesn't?)

Ah, but his story's not dead yet. GQ magazine will pay Ike to write a big feature on Maggie, provided he goes and does some actual reporting. (Forget that, in the real world, he'd be virtually unemployable at this point.) So, Ike descends on Maggie's town, where she just happens to again be making wedding plans. He shoehorns his way into every nook in her lifeHis vigilance borders on harassment. "File a restraining order!" you want to scream.

But of course, eventually, this somehow endears them to each other. Sure, you know she'll run away again. You also know she'll end up with the obnoxious journalist. And as a bonus, for the second time this summer you get to see a vulnerable Julie Roberts proposition a man.

Through it all, Maggie's little town provides some much-needed charm and humor, and even a pinch of drama (Maggie's father drinks too much). And Joan Cusack, as one of Maggie's pals, does as much as her great talent allows with a character too lackluster for Joan Cusack's great talent. Hector Elizondo, incidentally, is in the same boat, making few waves as Ike's friend, Fisher.

But Runaway Bride is a story made in Hollywood, not Maryland. And only in Hollywood could two people with so many reasons to stay apart get together.

Julia Roberts, meanwhile, even manages to come across as unappealing in this movie, a none-too-easy feat. But fear not: there is still a place to go see the Julia Roberts you love. Just run away from Runaway and see Notting Hill, a much better Julia Roberts romance.

[For more information related to this story, see Here Comes The Bride]

Written by Rob Medich