"Surrender" (citywide) is a determinedly middle-of-the-road romantic comedy that's often better when it's serious than when it's trying to be funny. Writer-director Jerry Belson does turn out some nifty one-liners and some very believable and often amusing characters, but every now and then he throws in a broad joke or bit that throws everything out of kilter.
Take the way Sally Field and Michael Caine meet. They're at a posh museum bash that's held up by gunmen who force everyone to strip, and Field and Caine end up being tightly bound together, face-to-face without so much as a stitch of clothing between them. The expressions on their faces as they try to maintain dignity and decorum is hilarious.
The predicament may be inspired, but its setting up lacks credibility. A number of such contrivances weigh down what is otherwise a lively and engaging entertainment.
Field is Daisy Morgan, a 40-ish struggling artist who makes enough money at an assembly line painting factory, helping to turn out hotel room paintings by the gross (in both senses) to eat and to pay the rent on her light and airy Hollywood Hills pad. All the other niceties of life are supplied by her rich, egotistical younger boyfriend Marty (Steve Guttenberg), who's generous but not about to settle down.
Daisy is a modest talent, who likes to think she has standards and goals but is starting to feel desperate. She honors her creative urges but, as time has passed, she's faced the fact that she has always been broke or nearly so. She hasn't found Mr. Right, and soon she will be too old to have children. There are a lot of Daisys in this town.
Caine's Sean Stein is also a familiar L.A. type, a writer--he happens to write mysteries--who strikes it rich only to be taken to the cleaners by a succession of women. He's so embittered and downright scared that when two elevator doors open simultaneously he gets in the elevator with the leather-jacketed, bare-chested muscle man instead of the gorgeous blonde, which is a terrific sight gag. When he's lashed to Daisy he hasn't been with a woman for two years, but how's he to pursue her without letting her know he's well-fixed? (Apparently, Daisy not only has never read Sean's best-selling works, but also she has never heard of him.)
What is sound and refreshing about "Surrender" is its bedrock honesty about the major role money plays in happiness. If Sean wants to be loved for himself, Daisy wants security no less. "Surrender" charts all the calamities they experience in attempting to square away love and money. Belson, a veteran of TV who's managed to work in some interesting movies from time to time, really understands and respects the needs of both Daisy and Sean.
Not surprisingly, a couple of Oscar winners like Field and Caine have lots of fun with Daisy and Sean, and charm pours out of them like Niagara Falls. They give panache to a simple walk on the beach.
The revelation is Steve Guttenberg. He has enjoyed considerable success in his fairly brief career but has never taken a chance like this, playing a finger-snapping, spoiled rich kid who's saved from obnoxiousness by sheer innocence. He's a jerk, but there's a surprising sweetness in him. As Daisy's tennis pro father (Jackie Cooper, in a very sharp single scene) reminds her, she could do worse--and maybe not better. Julie Kavner has some good, tart moments as Daisy's best friend, and Peter Boyle is Caine's lawyer pal who tries to sell him on the wisdom of prenuptial agreements.
"Surrender" (MPAA-rated: PG for adult themes) glows with Juan Ruiz Anchia's sunny camera work and bounces along to the emphatic beat of Michel Colombier's score. "Surrender" is a movie with plenty of smarts--too many for Belson not to have aimed higher.
'SURRENDER' A Warner Bros. release of a Cannon Group/Golan-Globus production in association with Aaron Spelling & Alan Greisman. Writer-director Jerry Belson. Camera Juan Ruiz Anchia. Music Michel Colombier. Production designer Lilly Kilvert. Costumes Betsy Heimann. Associate producers Jim Van Wyck, Wendy Greene Bricmont. Stunt coordinator Peter J. Stader. Film editor Wendy Greene Bricmont. With Sally Field, Michael Caine, Steve Guttenberg, Peter Boyle, Jackie Cooper, Julie Kavner, Louise Lasser, Michael Andrews, Jerry Lazarus.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
MPAA rating: PG (Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.)