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A Pyromaniac's Love Story


Friday April 28, 1995

     "A Pyromaniac's Love Story" practically pants for your approval. It's a strenuous, sweet-natured romantic comedy that never really works its way into your heart--or your head. Maybe it's the fault of the premise--a bakery burns down and, as a sign of their passion, four love-struck souls each try to take credit for it. It's an unwieldy conceit for a comedy.
     Successful adult fairy tales have made do with far less, but director Joshua Brand (creator of such TV shows as "Northern Exposure" and "I'll Fly Away") and screenwriter Morgan Ward don't provide much genuine romanticism. It's a film about ardor made with a careful tastefulness. A comedy about would-be pyromaniacs needs more inspired lunacy.
     John Leguizamo plays Sergio, a Puerto Rican pastry boy at a failing German bakery run by the Linzers (Joan Plowright and Armin Mueller-Stahl, recapping their husband-and-wife act from "Avalon"). When the bakery burns, the police are besieged by a raft of confessors: Sergio, Mr. Linzer, Mrs. Linzer and Garet Lumpke (William Baldwin), whose wealthy father (Richard Crenna) wants Sergio to take the rap in exchange for a bundle of cash that will allow him to properly romance Hattie (Sadie Frost), who works as a waitress but wants to see the world.
     Sergio is an innocent who believes in the power of passion. Hattie, who clonks guys on the make for her, doesn't seem like the type to inspire such ardor. But, it turns out, she's an innocent too. Garet, more gushy about his feelings, spouts windy odes to love and in general carries on like a reject from a roadshow production of "Cyrano." (He has a bum leg, like Lord Byron.) He carries a torch--literally--for the well-to-do Stephanie (Erika Eleniak) before switching over to Hattie.
     The filmmakers are trying to bring the torch metaphor to life. These people are supposed to be inflamed by love, but there's nothing combustible about the way they connect. In this Anytown, U.S.A. locale, the characters--German, Puerto Rican, rich, poor--seem like wholesome puppets. Leguizamo, who, from some angles, resembles a young John Garfield, is peppy, and Plowright and Mueller-Stahl may turn out to be the next Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. But "A Pyromaniac's Love Story" is no hunka hunka burnin' love.

A Pyromaniac's Love Story, 1995. PG, for mild language. A Hollywood Pictures presentation of a Mark Gordon production. Director Joshua Brand. Producer Mark Gordon. Screenplay by Morgan Ward. Cinematographer John Schwartzman. Editor David Rosenbloom. Costumes Bridget Kelly. Music Rachel Portman. Production design Dan Davis. Set decorator Jaro Dick. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. William Baldwin as Garet. John Leguizamo as Sergio. Sadie Frost as Hattie. Erika Eleniak as Stephanie.

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