First-time director Bonnie Hunt pays slavish adherence to the Nora Ephron rules of assembly for the prefab rom-com: emotion-cueing whitebread soundtrack, ostentatious attention to given urban landscapehere it's Chicagothat renders a bland, mall-bought local flavor, and sentimental longing for the "chaste" relationship comedies of the '30s and '40s, necessitating some prudish gimmick designed to leave our predestined lovers laissez-faire. In Return to Me, it's Minnie Driver's self-consciousness about her heart-transplant scar that keeps widower architect David Duchovny out of her blouse. He stays out long enough, in fact, to discover that Minnie received his dead wife's heart (the creepiest high-concept date-movie twist since, um, Kissed). Missing from the Ephron stew, however, is the usual smarmy bourg air of entitlement, since Hunt makes gimpy efforts at some working-class heroism (Driver works with her extended brood at a restaurant dive; Duchovny might carry a cell phone, but he drives a truck and wears a hard hat to work), leaving us with less to hate but not more to like.
Directed by Rob Cohen
Written by John Pogue
A Universal release
Nora Ephron's Lucky Guy Digests Its Drama for You; NAATCO's Strindberg Diminishes a Dream
Centuries of Ivy League entitlement get an energetic and thoroughly brainless dressing-down from The Skulls, in which Joshua Jackson plays an ambitious Yale student with little money or family support who's invited to join a powerful secret society festering with murder and intrigue. The movie (filmed in Toronto) nails New Haven's Disney-Gothic architecture, our Pacey flings himself agreeably into the proceedings, and plenty of compelling motifs help pass the time: Top Gun-style shirtless bonding between the recruits (all male, all WASP, all the time); celebrations of Mr. Jackson's superhuman strength (he outruns a speeding Jeepat length); and one Skulls aluma corrupt-but-lovable, teen-girl-chasing, honey-throated Southern senatorwho bears enough resemblance to our commander in chief that The Skulls begins to resemble a roman à clef (to get you started, Craig T. Nelson plays Kenneth Starr). The preview audience chatted happily all the way through the movie, indicating its destiny as a perennial rental favorite for frat-house living rooms across the U.S.A.
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