The Marrying Man, from a script by Neil Simon, is your basic, everyday boy-meets-girl, boy-marries-girl, boy-divorces-girl, boy-marries-girl-again, boy-divorces-girl-again, boy well, you get the idea. The movie, a romantic comedy set in the late ’40s and early ’50s, stars Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger as lusty lovers who can’t live with or without each other. They keep breaking up, but an elaborate series of coincidences — and, of course, their own feelings — keep pushing them back together. Simon’s script has a repetitive, clockwork structure that’s meant to be a running gag. The movie wants to be a loving throwback to the era when Hollywood made intricate screwball comedies — films whose very appeal lay in their brighter-than-life symmetry. Simon hasn’t completely lost his touch — a few of his one-liners still make it over the net — but most of his energy is spent sustaining the movie’s rigidly convoluted story line. It’s a stunt of diminishing returns. The Marrying Man has its moments, but mostly it keeps thumping you on the back to remind you of how light-headed and romantic it’s being.
Baldwin plays Charley Pearl, a dapper, womanizing rogue who’s heir to a $30 million toothpaste fortune. He’s about to throw over his playboy ways to marry Adele (Elisabeth Shue), the sweet-faced daughter of a Hollywood studio chief (Robert Loggia) who has promised to kill him if he screws up the marriage. On his way out to Vegas for a marathon bachelor party, Charley and his four buddies — a gang of wisecracking Damon Runyon types — stop at the El Rancho Casino and proceed to get their eyeballs singed by Vicki Anderson (Basinger), the joint’s ultra-sultry torch singer. From the moment she saunters onstage in a skintight lavender dress, brandishing a leonine mane and singing ”Let’s Do It,” Basinger does her best to out-va-va-va-voom Jessica Rabbit. She is, as it turns out, an accomplished singer, and she has the neo-Rita Hayworth moves down pat — the slow-motion hip swivels, the eye contact that’s part come-on, part lethal dare. Yet there’s something weirdly impersonal in her delivery. Unlike, say, Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, Basinger never discovers a way to make this classically ”steamy” routine her own.
Vicki turns out to be the girlfriend of Bugsy Siegel (Armand Assante), who watches her like a hawk. Charley, though, is so smitten he doesn’t care. He sends his buddies on to Vegas and quickly charms his way into Vicki’s bed — at which point Bugsy walks in on the two of them. Rather than sending Charley to the bottom of the ocean in a pair of cement shoes, Bugsy comes up with a rather peculiar plan of revenge: He’ll force the illicit lovers to get married! Charley soon has the marriage annulled, but fate keeps him on a collision course with Vicki.
In the old romantic comedies, a man and a woman often had to spend an entire film figuring out that they actually liked each other. That’s supposed to be the case in The Marrying Man, only here, the back-and-forth playfulness feels like the elaborate contrivance it is. There are a number of tearing-at- the-clothes bedroom scenes, but they’re a shade embarrassing, because they don’t mesh with the light-farce tone the rest of the film is straining for; Charley and Vicki are so hot for each other that we’re not quite sure what the problem is. The movie is most enjoyable when Charley is just hanging out with his pals. These scenes have some zing, especially when Paul Reiser — in his best work since Diner — drops deadpan insults as the acerbic Phil.
Baldwin, who has the sharklike handsomeness to play a carefree young rake, gives an appealing performance. He knows how to underplay Simon’s bump-bump-be-dum dialogue, and his presence is naturally comic. This has something to do with his eyes, which are usually seductive but can suddenly go puppyish with befuddled desire. He makes Charley a happy slave to his own amorousness. Basinger, who raises hormone levels in just about everyone I know, continues to leave me cold. There’s something petulant and detached about her that prevents her sexiness from leaping off the screen. (I always get the feeling she isn’t really enjoying herself.) She and Baldwin are obviously working overtime to strike sparks here. But then, Simon’s coy and laborious script would probably have defeated any two actors. By the end of The Marrying Man, when Charley and Vicki get together for the fourth (or is it the sixth?) time, we should feel exhilarated. Instead, we’re merely relieved.