You know something is just not right about a movie when even the most insignificant supporting characters have more charisma and personality than the leads.
Such is the case with "The Bachelor," a comedy about an heir to a $100 million fortune who has 24 hours to get married or be cut off without a dime.
Chris O'Donnell (Robin in the recent "Batman" movies) is said heir, a commitment-o-phobe from central casting named Jimmy whose persnickety, cantankerous grandfather (Peter Ustinov) kicks the bucket and reveals in his videotaped will that -- surprise! -- he's a millionaire. But grandpa is also obsessed with begetting a family legacy and decrees that Jimmy, his soul heir, gets zip unless he's married by his 30th birthday. Unfortunately grandpa has the bad timing to die two days before the deadline.
Cast wildly against type, Ustinov is the one great joy of this movie as he affects a slight Southern drawl, delighting in his irascibility as he snaps at O'Donnell through his ever-present bullhorn: "Procreate!"
Jimmy has a girlfriend named Anne, played by "Jerry Maguire" darling Renee Zellweger. And he loves her -- or so we're told. Zellweger only has half a dozen speaking lines in the first 45 minutes of the movie and the picture never even tries to establish a tangible romance between them. It expects the audience to just take it as read that they're perfect for each other because she's smiles so cutely when O'Donnell turns on his 20-watt charm.
We're also told Anne is easygoing about their relationship, so it's especially odd when she becomes broken hearted by his sudden, dispassionate and completely flubbed proposal ("You win," he says, pushing a ring toward her).
Operating on a deadline -- and on the assumption that Anne has run off to Europe and cannot be wooed -- Jimmy burns through a checklist of old girlfriends who have enough self-esteem to turn him down.
All of them are played by actresses who easily outshine O'Donnell in their singular scenes together. Examples: 1) Glass-shattering pop star and screen rookie Mariah Carey as an opera singer (dubbed, ironically) who tells him "All I remember about you is that you looked pretty good with your shirt off. But so do I." 2) Brooke Shields, hilarious as a chain-smoking gold-digger who bails out just before an "I do" when she finds out one of the caveats of the will is bearing Jimmy's children.
Other supporting players that make O'Donnell and Zellweger look bad: Hal Holbrook and Edward Asner as grandpa's frisky friends who aid Jimmy in his search for a bride, the criminally under-utilized James Cromwell ("Babe," "L.A. Confidential") as an on-call priest, and Nicholas Pryor and Maree Cheatham as Anne's eternally randy and giddy-in-love parents.
A remake of "Seven Chances," a 1925 slapstick shortie featuring silent comedy master Buster Keaton, "The Bachelor" perks up a bit when Jimmy's best friend (obnoxious Artie Lange of "Mad TV") calls the newspaper and lands the groom-in-waiting and his potential inheritance on the front page, leading to a madcap, taffeta stampede of willing brides. O'Donnell is chased up and down the hills of San Francisco by hundreds of them.
But even then director Gary Sinyor can't overcome the underwhelming and under-written leads or the inept, distracting and unnecessary bachelorhood-wild mustangs analogy that runs willy-nilly through the picture, all the way up until Anne caves in to one of those weak mea culpa, I-really-do-love-you speeches reluctant men always give at the end of simpleton romantic comedies.
It's a pity. The brilliance of Buster Keaton deserves a better homage.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th November 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $36.9M
Distributed by: WARNER BROTHERS PICTURES
Production compaines: George Street Pictures, The Lloyd Segan Company
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 9%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 61
IMDB: 5.0 / 10
Director: Gary Sinyor
Starring: Chris O'Donnell as Jimmie Shannon, Renée Zellweger as Anne Arden, Artie Lange as Marco, Hal Holbrook as Roy O'Dell, Ed Asner as Sid Gluckman, James Cromwell as The Priest, Marley Shelton as Natalie Arden, Peter Ustinov as Grandad James Shannon, Jennifer Esposito as Daphne, Jason Aaron Baca as Groomsmen #3