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Forces of Nature

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 26 March 1999

  Directed by Bronwen Hughes.

Starring Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck,
Maura Tierney, Steve Zahn, Blythe Danner,
Ronny Cox, David Strickland, and Meredith Scott Lynn.

Screenplay by Marc Lawrence.

Back in 1990 Washington DC area airport Dulles International was the setting for Die Hard 2, a lesser sequel in that franchise. To the thinking of this long-time DC Beltway resident, the film took itself a notch down by placing Pacific Bell pay phones in prominent view (a continuity error here in Bell Atlantic-land), an error caused as much by the film having been shot in Denver as on poor research, the kind that often places Silver Springs in Maryland instead of Florida. Filmmakers have often done geographic damage of similar ilk to many a neighborhood. Back in 1987 the Baltimore subway system derailed to the nation’s capital in No Way Out. Go figure. A Dulles Airport fiasco rises anew in Forces of Nature, a new faux romantic-comedy featuring Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck as a pair of mis-matched road mates on the way from New York City to Savannah. Perhaps at Bullock’s request (she grew up 45 minutes from the airport), or by some other stroke of misfortune, the noted futuristic building design by Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen is magically transported via Hollywood special effects wizards (actually just a few well-placed New York City taxis) to the Big Apple. Next up, no doubt, will be the relocation of the Washington Monument to Chicago because the some Windy City production couldn’t get permission to film the Sears Tower.

I won’t say Forces of Nature was a total barometric disappointment because of this mind-boggling oversight. It certainly didn’t put me in a favorable frame of mind. The script by Marc Lawrence (also responsible for the upcoming remake of Neil Simon’s The Out of Towners) is a washout, a cross between Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Overnight Delivery, a little seen Paul Rudd-Reese Witherspoon vehicle that at least sports a better ending than this new retread, which walks a fat line along a fiancé’s professed love and an extended minor indiscretion, used as a tool to reach his intended bride on their wedding day. Lawrence sprinkles an occasional dialogue nugget amongst the coal, but the bin remains filled with black rocks, lacking sparkle and wit. Two of America’s sweethearts star in this lesser effort, and that’s enough to bring in their fans and crowds searching for a slice of light romantic diversion. Don’t raise your hopes too high and you might find it. I didn’t (raise them or find it). This was particularly true in Affleck’s case; I felt his performance lacked any gumption and often wandered off into Adam Sandler impersonations. I don’t think the supporting cast were well written, particularly the parents of the bride and groom. Director Bronwen Hughes’ sophomore effort (after Harriet the Spy) is an adequate one, of sexual innuendo, pre-marital infidelity, hot baths, and cold showers. But like its main characters, it loses its direction somewhere in South Carolina, when "by chance" the film’s main ruse starts to unravel.

A series of circumstances (the only way to believe this film) has the loyal and monogamous book-jacket copywriter Ben (Affleck) teaming up with ravishing, free spirit Sarah (Bullock) as he races against time and an approaching hurricane to reach his beloved Bridget (NewsRadio’s Maura Tierney) down in Georgia and she hurries to save her investment in a Savannah bagel shop from an unloving second husband and then hopefully reconcile with another part of her family. Sarah’s actually a fan of his work, wowed by his blurbs on the back of the non-seller Me and My Pharoah. The stage for possible marital disaster is set early, when Ben’s grandfather, hospitalized after suffering a heart attack at the boy’s bachelor party, confesses he never married his wife out of love ("She looked like Tolstoy!") and that (his) marriage is a prison. Ominous storm warnings indeed in a film tossed with weather references and dark clouds, raising the eternal question, "Will he or won’t he?"

So, the unlikely coupling survive a plane crash, a felony-tainted car expedition, a train ride that sputters to a halt and finds Sarah pushing the reserved Ben trying to let out a scream on top of a rail car, and a busload of sun worshippers looking for a good deal on a time share. The usual stops along the way include an agonizingly stay at a Wal-Mart, a laundromat, a motel in Oren, South Carolina (where Coincidence checks in), and the Mr. Wonderful Bar, a bump-and-grind joint that brings about an unlikely disrobing that sends the crowd (on screen and off) roaring. The act stops short of an X-rating and ends up in a used Bonneville convertible (actually, a semi-convertible).

The tempest and cast collide at film’s end, with an ending that is definitely different. A final voice over tries to bring some understanding to the film’s unbelievable conclusions. But, like Sarah’s bagel place, this epilogue, as most of the rest of the film, is full of holes. I suggest a detour around Forces of Nature until its arrival on home video.

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