`Friend' Provides Spice In Bland Hash Of A Tale

Posted: February 14, 1997

For those who believe that Matthew Perry - the drollest of television's six Friends - is the next Tom Hanks, Fools Rush In justifies your faith.

This comedy about two strangers who sleep together on their first date, marry on their second, and then get to know each other is nice in a bland way, but Perry's performance is spice of an unfamiliar kind.

Early on he persuades you that waiting in line at a cantina bathroom is an occasion for cosmic comedy, and suddenly this most predictable of romances takes turns as unpredictable as its leading man's timing. Perry doesn't so much deliver a line as he deliberates whether he should send it FedEx or snail mail.

``You are everything I didn't know I wanted for the rest of my life,'' declares Alex Whitman (Perry) to Isabel Fuentes (Salma Hayek). Name another actor who, as he switches from present to past tense, switches his posture from tense to relaxed. Mostly Perry's Alex teases humor from the fact that physically he is square-jawed and solid, while everything that comes out of his mouth is askew.

Alex is a Connecticut WASP, a construction expediter for a chain of hip nightclubs who's supervising a new site in Las Vegas. Isabel is a Mexican American Catholic, a nature photographer who supports her art by taking snapshots of guests at Caesars Palace. By getting married so early in their relationship, Alex and Isabel avoid the commitment problem. This doesn't mean the opposites don't rush smack into every other obstacle, including each other.

As the movie's opposites-attract plot has it, he believes in planning while she believes in destiny. And as you have undoubtedly guessed about this Valentine's Day offering, this is a movie about their mutual conversion.

Since this is mostly a comedy, there are numerous potholes and speed bumps in their way: for one, their conflicting definitions of family. Alex is an only child who keeps his folks at a comfortable distance, while Isabel thrives in the bosom of her parents and brothers.

Jill Clayburgh and John Bennett Perry (Matthew Perry's real-life dad) play Alex's country-clubby folks; the great Cuban-born actor Tomas Milian plays Isabel's protective father. Unfortunately, these supporting players who might have given some real flavor to the story are written and played as generic gringos and Hispanics.

And though Hayek is charming and has a bod beyond belief, she is not yet as resourceful a performer as Perry. She reads her lines with enthusiasm. He makes this stale material seem positively fresh.

Although the film takes place mostly in Las Vegas, mercifully director Andy Tennant favors the red-rock landscapes over the neon flash of the Strip. Another good sign: There is only one Elvis impersonator in the entire film.

FOOLS RUSH IN* * 1/2

Produced by Doug Draizin, directed by Andy Tennant, written by Katherine Reback, from a story by Joan Taylor and Katherine Reback, photography by Robbie Greenberg, music by Alan Silvestri, distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Running time: 1:46

Alex Whitman - Matthew Perry

Isabel Fuentes - Salma Hayek

Chuy - Carlos Gomez

Jeff - Jon Tenney

Tomas - Tomas Milian

Nan - Jill Clayburgh

Parent's guide: PG-13 (language, mature situations, discreet eroticism)

Showing at: area theaters

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