Gregg Kilday
February 23, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. That Hollywood formula flies out the window this spring with offbeat love stories that redefine the whole notion of power couples. While Julia Roberts and John Malkovich are busy proving that it takes only two to make a threesome in the Jekyll-and-Hyde riff Mary Reilly, a clutch of other duos are proving that as love goes about conquering all, it’s sure got a lot to contend with.

TOOTHSOME TWOSOMES
Michelle Pfeiffer plays a wannabe newscaster blinded by ambition. Robert Redford is a veteran newshound who’s so chockful of integrity his last name is literally Justice. Put them together and you get the evening news as only Hollywood could reimagine it. Although Up Close and Personal (March 1) was originally based on the life of NBC anchor Jessica Savitch, who died in a 1983 car accident, critics are already polishing up this year’s Demi Moore Get-Me-Rewrite Award for creative historical revisionism. In this version, ”Savitch” lives.

Speaking of surprising survivors, remember Cher? She hasn’t tackled a starring role since 1990’s Mermaids, but she’s back (and fully bewigged) as a New York socialite housewife in director Paul Mazursky’s Faithful (April 12), based on a play by Bullets Over Broadway Oscar nominee Chazz Palminteri. The story, in which Cher’s 20-year marriage to Ryan O’Neal is unraveling when hitman Palminteri arrives to do her in, is ”a comedy, but it has real darkness,” insists Mazursky, who also appears as Palminteri’s shrink. A tense postproduction struggle was no laughing matter, though. When Faithful‘s producers argued for a recut, Mazursky threatened to remove his name. In the end, he notes, ”my version tested best, and my version is back.”

Family troubles also pose a problem for Cameron Diaz (Jim Carrey’s Mask costar), who is sorely tempted in Feeling Minnesota (April 26). Her dilemma? Whether to stay with her new husband, a sleazy accountant, Vincent D’Onofrio, or run off with his rivalrous sibling, Keanu Reeves. ”I’m forced down the aisle, but on the same day I’m married, I meet Keanu and fall in love,” says Diaz. ”I had a little bonfire for that wedding dress at the end of the movie — I never wanted to wear it again.” Meanwhile, Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones play an unlikely duo of another sort — two men who discover that they have the same mother — in A Family Thing (March 29). Duvall, who also produced, developed the project about an Arkansas used-tractor salesman who seeks out his long-lost sibling in Chicago. Since Jones plays a reticent policeman with a stutter, ”the first thing we did,” says director Richard Pearce (Country), ”was disarm his Darth Vader voice.”

The notion of family takes a different twist in The Birdcage (March 8), director Mike Nichols’ remake of the 1978 French farce La Cage aux Folles, about two gay lovers who must play straight when the son of one brings home his fiancee’s conservative parents. ”[Screenwriter] Elaine [May] and I have wanted to do this for 15 years,” says Nichols (Working Girl). When the rights became available, he collared Robin Williams to play the more buttoned-down half of the couple — ”I knew Robin would be perfect at repressing hysteria” — and then cast Broadway star Nathan Lane as his diva of a boyfriend. And though incorrigible improviser Williams stuck to the script most of the time, several bits — like a sudden kitchen pratfall — were invented on the spot.

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