The Bachelor

Friday November 5, 1999

     For the first 60 seconds or so, "The Bachelor" comports itself like a movie with quirky yet real potential. A herd of wild horses stampedes across sun-blasted plains, while David Byrne bleats out the words to "Don't Fence Me In" on the soundtrack. In voice-over, Chris O'Donnell testifies to this truth: Men treasure freedom, he tells us. "In his heart, every man is a wild, untamed mustang."
     It's a fleet-footed start for a flat-footed film. The movie could go anywhere from here but chooses to take us to a parallel world--or at least it might as well be for all the similarity it bears to life as we know it. The city announces itself as San Francisco, but it is San Francisco as imagined by Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Folks are neighborly. The sun is always shining. And streets are free of traffic until the plot calls for a car.
     O'Donnell plays Jimmy Shannon, a clean-cut guy's guy who stands to inherit $100 million, but only if he gets married by 6:05 p.m. on his 30th birthday. Unfortunately, his birthday is tomorrow, and he's already proposed and been turned down by his girlfriend Anne (Renee Zellweger). She could tell he didn't really want to get married. The tip-off was the way he sat the ring on the table and said, "You win."
     Now Jimmy is eager to get hitched, money his incentive. Thinking that Anne is out of the country, he sets out on a mission to find a bride.
     The movie is an update of a 1925 Buster Keaton film, "Seven Chances." Three-quarters of a century ago, no doubt, there was humor in seeing a man flee a thousand brides. In 1999, our responses are a bit more complicated. No matter how lightweight the movie, we wonder why these women are so desperate to wed a stranger. It can't just be that they live in San Francisco. And we're a bit uneasy at the way the movie makes fun of them.
     Because his friend (Artie Lange) runs a newspaper ad, Jimmy goes from being a man who can't get any of his ex-girlfriends to marry him to the city's most eligible bachelor. Through it all, though, he comes to realize that it's Anne he really wants. Guess who he winds up with at the end?
     This is meant to be a romantic comedy told from the guy's perspective, so Jimmy is surrounded by male friends and advisors, all with their own views on marriage. In addition to the obnoxious, loudmouthed Lange, they include Edward Asner and Hal Holbrook as the family attorney and stockbroker, who seem to have nothing better to do than hang out with Jimmy. These actors all emote too much, playing their characters as broadly as possible. When they are on screen, the movie feels like a bad TV sitcom.
     At other times, but never for very long, it's reminiscent of more gentle (and far better) comedies like "When Harry Met Sally." It never comes close to working at that level, though, in part because we never understand the main characters' attraction for each other.
     In voice-over, Jimmy tells us in the beginning that he likes Anne because she's not clingy. But then the movie is so eager to get to the big dilemma that it rushes through the evolution of their relationship. O'Donnell and Zellweger are easy on the eyes, but we're asked to take it on faith that they have other qualities that would make a person care for them. The movie never shows what those qualities might be. And not long after those first 60 seconds, we stop even wondering.


The Bachelor, 1999. PG-13, for language. A New Line Cinema production. Director Gary Sinyor. Producers Lloyd Segan and Bing Howenstein. Executive producers Michael De Luca, Chris O'Donnell and Donna Langley. Screenplay Steve Cohen. Cinematographer Simon Archer. Production designer Craig Stearns. Editor Robert Reitano. Composers David A. Hughes and John Murphy. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Chris O'Donnell as Jimmy. Renee Zellweger as Anne. Artie Lange as Marco. Edward Asner as Gluckman. Hal Holbrook as O'Dell. James Cromwell as Priest. Marley Shelton as Natalie.

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