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Lack of development dooms Mr. Wonderful

Mr. Wonderful
Directed by Anthony Minghella.
Written by Amy Schor and Vicki Polon.
Starring Matt Dillon, Annabella Sciorra, Mary-Louise Parker, and William Hurt.
Loews Copley.

By Scott Deskin

Matt Dillon, with his grungily appealing performance in Cameron Crowes's Singles last year, seemed like he was moving back into the cinematic mainstream. A further venture into that mainstream, titled Mr. Wonderful, may give him some second thoughts. Ostensibly a romantic comedy-drama, this movie is filled with appealing actors and interesting locales, but lacks serious development in characters or dialogue.

Dillon stars as Gus, an electrical worker in New York City who has just divorced his wife (Annabella Sciorra). He tries to move on with his life, and the movie opens with him involved with a new girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker). Parker's character is a nurse, so the career conflicts they have constantly cut into their time for romance. Sciorra's character, Lee, is a college student and becomes romantically involved with a literature professor (William Hurt). They have no problem for spending time together, but she still yearns for a more emotional and less intellectual relationship. This scenario is set up within the first five minutes of the movie, so the audience has no idea how the marriage between Gus and Lee took a turn for the worse, or why they loved one another in the first place.

The basic plot is this: Gus's buddies from work decide to take his mind off of his romantic troubles, so they all decide to purchase and renovate an old neighborhood bowling alley. Gus reluctantly agrees, but he is financially strapped from credit union loans and alimony payments to Lee. So, his friends give him the idea that if he can get his ex-wife to marry, he'll be out of debt to Lee and will be able to go in with the others on the bowling alley project. This unlikely plot device leads to the forseen result: the ex-husband playing matchmaker for the ex-wife and the romantic tangles that ensue.

Mr. Wonderful itself is being hyped as an "East Coast Singles," but somehow falls short of that promise. From the outset, the chemistry between Dillon and Sciorra seems stilted. Their characters are plagued by a nagging ambivalence to their new situations brought about by divorce; this supposedly clues in the audience to their lingering attraction to each other. Therefore, after a few scenes of light confrontation between Gus and Lee, the plot implausibly suggests that Lee will allow her ex-husband to pair her up on blind dates in search for her "Mr. Wonderful." Of course, she goes along with his scheme without asking any real questions like, "Why should you care about my love life?" Amicable divorce notwithstanding, the plot gaps open wide from this point in the story to the end of the movie.

The movie does have some good points, though. Mary-Louise Parker is pleasantly vivacious in her role as Dillon's love interest. And character actor Dan Hedaya (last seen as a hospital orderly in Benny and Joon) brings some wit to his role as one of Dillon's coworkers at Con Edison. But William Hurt's performance as the English professor is a mere walk-through and does not grant any buoyancy to the story, which seriously needs some. There are a few good lines, but they are typically marred by Dillon's streetwise remarks (e.g., he confronts Lee and her professor with, "Up for a little late-night cramming?") and, again, the lack of chemistry between the two stars.

In all, Mr. Wonderful does a few things right to preserve its basic love story. But the predictability of it all quickly degenerates this film to "TV Movie of the Week" status. Mr. Wonderful is not a bad movie, but its triteness of plot dooms it to mediocrity.