The romantic comedies of the 1950s made sport of what they weren't allowed to show. Sometimes, the results were pure gold: A movie like the Doris Day-Rock Hudson Pillow Talk is startlingly sexy and sophisticated; the characters seem to be kidding each other (and the audience) about the eroticism percolating beneath the luminous, bubble-bath dialogue. Coming on the heels of Pretty Woman and Ghost, He Said, She Said feels like the first in a new wave of ''old-fashioned'' romantic comedies. It's rated PG-13, and the characters spend more time trading synthetic barbs than they do falling into bed.
Dan (Kevin Bacon) and Lorie (Elizabeth Perkins) are both attractive, ambitious young journalists who start out writing dueling editorials for the Baltimore Sun and end up doing a ''Point Counterpoint''-style show on local television. When the two become an item, we're meant to see the continuity between their personal and professional lives. (The movie is so obvious we could hardly miss it.) Dan, an addicted womanizer, is brash, charming, and shallow, and so are his political opinions. On the air, he's a kind of freewheeling show-biz reactionary, giddily turning thumbs down on the latest social program. Lorie is maternal, ''caring,'' and insecure. Naturally, she's the earnest liberal. The question is: Can she wean Dan from his swinging-bachelor ways?
He Said, She Said would like to be a wisecracking adult comedy, and it has a promising-sounding gimmick: In contrasting scenes, we see the relationship from both points of view. Yet something has changed since the Pillow Talk days. In the past two decades, our notion of romance has gotten all gummed up with the jargon of pop psychology. Now a comedy about two people trying to figure out if they really love each other also has to be about ''needs'' and ''space.'' I'm not saying these aren't real issues, but they don't lend themselves to comedy; if anything, they douse it. There's an air of desperation about this movie. The very premise is studiously retro the idea that men and women have neatly divergent points of view on everything from politics to pasta. Dan and Lorie might have been interesting characters if the movie weren't so busy turning them into representatives of their genders.
He Said, She Said is plastic, but it isn't painful, mostly because of the two performers. Perkins, with her ripe smirk and inscrutable cat's eyes (she resembles a sleeker version of the young Elizabeth Taylor), has a zesty delivery; she's the right actress for contemporary screwball comedy. And Bacon is at his best playing debonair heels though I could have lived without the scenes in which Dan wakes up at 4:15 a.m. in a cold sweat. Characters this light shouldn't suffer crises of the soul.
Where the movie really blows it is in exploiting the structural hook. He Said, She Said was made by two directors (Ken Kwapis and Marisa Silver, who are now engaged), and the title and the ad campaign imply that we're going to shuttle back and forth between the two characters' points of view. Instead, the entire first half of the movie is Dan's the story of a Don Juan who won't be tamed. This is by far the worst section; it's a waxy build-up of clichés. But when the action shifts over to Lorie's point of view, we realize that we're going to have to watch the whole damned story again. It's a fatal mistake. A couple of the dramatic overlaps are funny, especially a scene in which the two characters, on their first date, run into one of Dan's bimbo girlfriends. But for most of the movie, the two versions don't mesh in a revealing manner. He Said, She Said fails to capture the ways in which contemporary men and women are different, and so it never really shows us why they need each other.