Times Film Critic

American comedy, which has been sagging on the ropes recently ("Burglar," "Raising Arizona"), gives up with a keening death moan in "Blind Date" (citywide), directed by Blake Edwards from an archaic, lobotomized screenplay by Dale Launer ("Ruthless People").

What boggles the mind is how this bit of navel lint could have seemed even remotely funny to anyone at any stage along its way. Even as a low moment in high concept, it is inconceivable that someone would undertake to make this into a film.

But someone did. Credit where credit is due: The producer was Tony Adams, the executive producers Gary Hendler and Jonathan D. Krane. Co-executive producer was David Permut. Associate producer was Trish Caroselli. Tri-Star is the releasing company.

All of them, as well as Blake Edwards, bought Launer's feeble and single premise: that a beautiful woman with no tolerance whatever for alcohol goes on a blind date with a yuppie executive who, warned about her problem, feeds her quantities of champagne, then watches in outraged dismay as she goes out of control.

She slurs, staggers, destroys floral arrangements, rips men's clothing, tells off stuffy executives, liberates their wives and turns passionate at high speeds on a freeway. That the film makers didn't also give her the keys to the car in question must simply have been an oversight--or saved for the sequel.

Add to this pratfalls from second-story windows, destructo-derby driving, food fights and subsequent vomiting and a lethal guard dog named Rambo and you pretty well wrap up the film's scope. Edwards has staged it with routines that had the decency to die with vaudeville (a judge whose gavel flies off, hitting his stenographer on the head). This from the director of "Victor/Victoria." It's enough to send one into the aisles howling like a dog.

This is what's been chosen to launch the screen career of television's Bruce Willis, aided nobly by Kim Basinger. Although he has a nice flair for physical comedy, Willis would be well advised not to quit his nighttime job. Basinger, who simply cannot be besmirched, retains a dignity and vulnerable charm that are almost unbelievable, given her assignment.

Since "Blind Date" is based entirely on the notion that alcoholic behavior is hilarious, it is bitterly ironic that Blake Edwards, who once defined alcoholism so poignantly in "Days of Wine and Roses," could find a single redeeming instant in "Blind Date." What it most closely resembles is his unwatchable disaster, "A Fine Mess," made when the director was seriously ill and about which he now says he has no memory whatever of making.

Many of the cast members have been recruited from secure niches in television: "Night Court's" John Larroquette, as the maddened former boyfriend of Basinger, is required to drive a car into storefronts no fewer than three times, and is both indestructible and omnipresent. "St. Elsewhere's" William Daniels (known wistfully to some as the fussy husband from "Two for the Road") plays a farcical Superior Court judge. Joyce Van Patten can be found as Basinger's mother and Georgann Johnson as the consummate executive wife. Presumably, television will have them back.

An industry that rewards the excruciating crassness of a premise like this by lavishing money and production talent on it has a lot to answer for. Built on a semi-reverse of Martin Scorsese's brilliant "After Hours," without a single faceted character or instant of original wit, "Blind Date" is a watershed example of the decline of American comedy, as well as the comedy of Blake Edwards.

But most chilling of all is the cynical notion that a movie like this one--morally evasive, rattlingly empty and deeply depressing--could be packaged and marketed and accepted as comedy by the American public, even one debilitated by long exposure to seedy television. My money's on the audience, every time. 'BLIND DATE'

A Tri-Star Pictures release from Tri-Star Delphi V and ML Delphi Premier Productions. Producer Tony Adams. Executive producers Gary Hendler, Jonathan D. Krane. Co-executive producer David Permut. Director Blake Edwards. Screenplay Dale Launer. Camera Harry Stradling. Production design Rodger Maus. Editor Robert Pergament. Costumes Tracy Tynan. Original music Henry Mancini. Associate producer Trish Caroselli. Art director Peter Lansdown Smith, set decorator Carl Biddiscombe. Sound William M. Randall. With Kim Basinger, Bruce Willis, John Larroquette, William Daniels, George Coe, Mark Blum, Phil Hartman, Joyce Van Patten, Georgann Johnson, Sab Shimono, Momo Yashima.

Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate from children under 13).

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