French Kiss

Friday May 5, 1995

     The best reason to see "French Kiss" is for the early, funny scenes with Kevin Kline playing Luc, an avid, leather-jacketed French thief with an industrial-strength mustache and perpetual 5 o'clock shadow. Before the movie turns him into a "sensitive" guy--i.e. an un-French Frenchman--Luc is a hilariously antiquated Gallic caricature. He's a wolf in wolf's clothing, and his accent pulls at vowels in a way the world hasn't heard since the heyday of Inspector Clouseau.
     Luc is introduced to us sitting next to Kate (Meg Ryan) on a flight from Toronto to Paris. Overcoming a major case of fear-of-flying jitters and some passport problems, Kate is on a mission to track down her errant fiance (Timothy Hutton), who is in Paris for a weeklong physicians' conference where he has fallen for a leggy French bombshell (Susan Anbeh).
     Kate believes that love should last forever. Her motive is simple: Get her man back. Luc chides Kate for her "girl's fairy tale" beliefs and provokes her with haughty homilies and sexual anecdotes culled from his vast backlog of lust. His motives are less simple: Is he provoking her because he's a rake or because he wants to distract her from her airborne fears? And, on the ground, is he just using her as an unwitting courier for a smuggled diamond necklace or is he also trying to get cozy?
     "French Kiss" tries to be a glass of pink champagne, but some of the fizz has gone out of the bottle. There's no surprise in the warming romance between Luc and Kate, and most of the potshots at the snooty French are tired. But director Lawrence Kasdan and screenwriter Adam Brooks cram so many potshots into the piece that, after a while, it makes you laugh anyway. It's as if they assembled every possible joke-book gibe against the French into one movie.
     The recession must really be over. Why else would Hollywood make a romantic comedy all about the vagaries of traveling abroad? This is the sort of thing that used to be big in the expendable-income eras of yore.
     The axis of the movie's world is the lobby of Paris' George V hotel, with its almost surrealistically condescending concierge (Laurent Spielvogel) and lotharios ever on guard to light a lady's cigarette (and lift her purse). The standard attractions--the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe--are photographed as great big tourist toys. This City of Light is anything but romantic. It's Wolf Central: the place to go if you want to give in to your worst impulses.
     If the filmmakers had extended their view of snootsville Paris to the countryside, it might have grown into a great big nasty cartoon. It might have been a wonderful, shamelessly chauvinistic sick joke of a movie. But Kasdan and Brooks collapse into sentimentality. When they start in with the loamy salt-of-the-earth stuff in Provence, with the old papa leaning on his cane and the vineyards glowing green in the sunlight, we're in French Tourist Commission territory.
     The confab between Luc and Kate gets awfully loamy, too. As they plot a reconciliation with Kate's fiance that neither believes in, we learn that, gosh, love can indeed last forever--as long as the right lovers are entwined. Luc loses his snap and Kate develops a whopping case of stars-in-eyes. The problem is not so much that we see all this coming but that, when it comes, it's just what we expected. The film dips its cliches in rose water, but the fragrance is faint.
     Kline and Ryan have a trumped-up rapport that seems more energetic than magical. They go through a lot of romantic movie motions, including the obligatory train ride together and the one where they share a hotel room and he sleeps on the couch. They let us know they're Made for Eachother.
     But they make each other laugh a lot more than they make us laugh. Ryan overdoes her innocent-abroad adorability, and she has grown overfond of pratfalls and Lucille Ball-style mugging. Kline's underplaying opposite her comes across as a form of gallantry. He's a one-of-a-kind comic performer: a leading man with the fidgety, eccentric soul of a supporting player. He tricks his specialty into a full-scale performance. The bias in this movie is all on the side of the hearty, life-embracing Americans, but Kline's Luc gives the French the win. He could have gone a lot further into madcap passion if the movie had let him. This "French Kiss" is more like a little love peck.

French Kiss, 1995. PG-13, for some sexuality and drug references. A 20th Century Fox and Polygram Filmed Entertainment presentation of a Working Title Production in association with Prufrock Pictures. Director Lawrence Kasdan. Producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Meg Ryan, Kathryn F. Galan. Executive producer Charles Okun. Screenplay by Adam Brooks. Cinematographer Owen Roizman. Editor Joe Hutshing. Costumes Joanna Johnston. Music James Newton Howard. Production design Jon Hutman. Set decorator Kara Lindstrom. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. Meg Ryan as Kate. Kevin Kline as Luc. Timothy Hutton as Charlie. Jean Reno as Jean-Paul.

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