The wisdom of Fats Waller is useful in trying to nail down this thing called chemistry. ”Lady,” the jazz pianist famously replied when asked to explain rhythm, ”if you got to ask, you ain’t got it.” All I know is, in One Fine Day, Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney got it.
On paper, Day should have been the riskier lab experiment. Pfeiffer is a major screen goddess, of course. But Clooney, who plays sexy bad boy Dr. Doug Ross in TV’s No. 1 drama, ER, is still an unproven movie commodity: A few good reviews for From Dusk Till Dawn does not a track record make, and Clooney’s ability to fill Batman’s cowl in the upcoming Batman and Robin has yet to be revealed. Director Michael Hoffman carries only a small and idiosyncratic résumé that includes the intermittently successful period-piece comedy Restoration and the 1991 spoof Soapdish. Screenwriter Ellen Simon’s previous effort, the autobiographical Moonlight and Valentino, was a self-indulgent affair from a novice writer better known as Neil Simon’s daughter.
Too, One Fine Day is relentlessly trend driven. Pfeiffer plays Melanie, a single mom and architect with a moppety 5-year-old son and one ear permanently glued to her damn cellular phone; Clooney is Jack, a secondary-custody divorced dad and newspaper columnist with a precocious 5-year-old daughter and his own damn cell phone. The two adults meet cute (forced to share a cab to get their kids to a school event, they inadvertently swap damn cell phones); by the end of the day, they’re goo-goo over each other. The setup is as old as Doris Day’s hairdo. The direction and dialogue cut corners shamelessly (every woman in the office purrs ”Hi, Jack!” as he strides by; Melanie barks driving directions to every cabbie, a tic owned by Holly Hunter for life after Broadcast News).
But — and here’s the big but — Clooney proves himself to be a true movie star and romantic leading man. His charm, his energy, even his ease with children (one of any adult actor’s most terrifying challenges) carry One Fine Day into irresistibility. Clooney’s brand of sexiness — a bemused awareness that he turns the girls on, tempered by the self-knowledge that the results are often far more trouble than they’re worth — is a variation on his ER character. But we can actually feel the magic working on Pfeiffer — who, as anyone who’s seen The Fabulous Baker Boys knows, is to die for when aroused, and unapproachable when not. B+