Fear. Deceit. Suspense. Anxiety. Yep, movie romance can be real white-knuckle stuff, with filmmakers sending singles out to play on a minefield as they dodge the twin terrors of commitment and solitude. In three new-to-video movies about relationships — A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Two Much, and If Lucy Fell — people also get shot, beaten, and contemplate suicide. Comedy may not be pretty, but when did it get so dangerous?
With society’s pendulum swinging toward more responsible sexuality, Hollywood needs its couples to settle, not simply bed, down. In the calculus of family values, the sexual swordsman has become an unsafe image. But as long as field testing prospective life partners maintains a thin moral edge over the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake, the movies can deal with it.
So when cowriter-director-star Martin Lawrence appropriates Fatal Attraction’s psycho-bitch paranoia for A Thin Line Between Love & Hate, the payoff for Casanova’s wronging the wrong woman is his getting right with the right one. Darnell (Lawrence) is an arrogant stud spreading his love around until he meets the haughty Brandi (Lynn Whitfield), an exec who doesn’t immediately roll over for this dog’s tired tricks. When Brandi does succumb, Darnell loses interest and gets busy with Mia (Regina King), the plain girl next door. Uh-oh. One missed dinner date and Brandi comes unglued: Her rampage ends with Darnell bleeding in her Malibu pool.
When he’s not bouncing lines off singer Bobby Brown (who capably plays Darnell’s nightclub business partner), Lawrence fires off a barrage of 12-letter words, silly faces, and exaggerated mack-daddy posturing yet fails to elicit solid laughs. Hoping to slide by on sheer attitude, the script ignores humor the same way it glosses over the gear-stripping shift in Brandi’s personality. But it does get one thing right: Darnell is such a rat that he deserves Brandi’s spite, if not her bullets.
Operating with even less logic, Two Much also makes its roguish playboy suffer for his misdeeds. In this exasperating farce, Antonio Banderas attempts physical comedy, playing dishonest Miami gallery owner Art Dodge (ha ha) and his fictitious twin, a sensitive painter named Bart, who carry on simultaneous affairs with ditzy socialite Betty (Melanie Griffith) and her smart sister Liz (Daryl Hannah), respectively. Pushed by a brutal attack at the hands of Betty’s thug ex-husband (Danny Aiello), Dodge heads toward a climactic wedding.
Role switching may have worked for Shakespeare and Superman, but here it’s ready for the sitcom scrap heap. Still, Two Much offers viewers who missed the film in its halfhearted theatrical release a chance to enjoy the clever bits that sprinkle snarky humor into its otherwise predictable plot exertions. While simply letting his leads act foolish, Spanish director-cowriter Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque) coaxes amusingly offbeat performances from Joan Cusack as Art’s disgusted employee and Eli Wallach as his dotty left-wing dad.
No such small pleasures redeem the disagreeable Manhattan yuppie fable If Lucy Fell. Writer-director-costar Eric Schaeffer (My Life’s in Turnaround) telegraphs his ending in the first five minutes and then trudges through vulgar humor, cloyingly cute kids, and unspeakable haircuts to finally reach it. After making a creepy get-involved-with-people-or-die suicide pact, platonic roommates Lucy (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Joe (Schaeffer) attempt relationships with, respectively, an idiotic artist (Ben Stiller) and a brainy beauty (Elle Macpherson). Then, with eternity beckoning, our heroes come to the shocking realization that they belong together. Even if these characters are obliged to waste their time getting to that point, no one else is.
In more innocent times, Frank Sinatra called love ”the tender trap.” Judging by these so-called lighthearted films, what awaits those taking the bait may not be so sweet. A Thin Line Between Love & Hate: C Two Much: C+ If Lucy Fell: C-