Here’s a romance featuring an unlikely pair of lovebirds: Max Baron (James Spader) is a yuppie ad-exec-turned-brooding-widower; Nora Baker (Susan Sarandon) is a fortysomething waitress at a greasy hamburger joint. He listens to Puccini in his Volvo; she prefers the Oak Ridge Boys. He has a clean, well-lighted condo; she lives in a dim, squalid hellhole on the wrong side of the tracks. You get the picture.
After one of the most repulsive one-night stands in recent movie history, they become magnetized to each other’s nether regions, leaving us to wonder how White Palace will actually deliver the touching, memorable love story it promises. Answer: It doesn’t. Despite director Luis Mandoki’s vivid sex-scene montages that are supposed to burn up our TV screens, Max and Nora never really convince us that they’re in love. What does ring true, though, is the film’s sense of a divided post-Reagan America: Sarandon’s nervous pangs of social inferiority among Spader’s well-coiffed, politely liberal friends at Thanksgiving dinner are etched with an unexpected depth and poignancy. But in the end, even Sarandon’s considerable talents can’t ignite this film’s slow sizzle. B-