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Bachelor, The Print E-mail
Tuesday, 18 April 2000

The Bachelor

New Line Home Video
starring: Chris O'Donnell, Renée Zellweger, Hal Holbrook, James Cromwell, Artie Lang, Edward Asner, Peter Ustinov, Brooke Shields
release year: 1999
film rating: Two stars
sound/picture: Three stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Back in 1925, the sublime Buster Keaton released SEVEN CHANCES, one of his funniest movies. It climaxes with him being chased by hundreds of would-be brides, and finally an avalanche of boulders. The humor stems not just from this slapstick extravaganza, but from Keaton's poker-faced hero being confronted by ever-escalating crises that begin early and peak with him trying to outrun the rocks. SEVEN CHANCES is a classic silent comedy.

THE BACHELOR is a half-assed remake with Chris O'Donnell in the Keaton role; where the Keaton movie was light and graceful, the remake is ponderous and obvious. Ideas that were standard for 1925 haven't been brought up to date, but clumsily replicated, such as the idea that men view marriage as a trap that has to be avoided as long as possible.

As badly directed and ineptly written as it is, the biggest failing of THE BACHELOR is the casting of O'Donnell in the title role. He has no discernible comedy ability; he seems to think that playing everything with his eyes wide open indicates sincerity, or honesty, or just innocence. O'Donnell is a limited actor at his very best; taking on this role underscores his limitations and trumpets them to the world at large. He's just not funny.

Then again, neither is the movie. It opens with a herd of wild horses galloping over the southwestern plains while a new take on Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In" accompanies the titles. The horses are there, you see, because bachelors are stallions, running wild and free; marriage traps them, emasculates them, destroys their freedom. (The movie runs the horse imagery into the ground.) And one by one, each of Jimmie's bachelor friends is snared into what have to be -- based on all this horse crap -- utterly loveless marriages. No one even gets twitterpated; they're almost literally dragged to the altar.

Jimmie has had a long series of girlfriends, each of whom he eventually breaks up with. As he's breaking up with the latter, he meets the next one, Anne (Renée Zellweger), who's at an adjoining table complaining about men. They fall in love, and Jimmie even finally decides to propose, but the way he does it -- "You win," he smiles -- pisses Anne off, and she stomps out.

Then Jimmie learns that his late grandfather (Peter Ustinov, no less, sounding like Peter Sellers sounding like an American) has left him a hundred million dollars if he'll get married by 6:05 on his 21st birthday. The will has other provisos, too, all of which sound like a mediocre lawer could break them.

So Jimmie tries to propose to Anne again, but she again turns him down, so he and his pal Marco (Artie Lange, awesomely unfunny) try to find a match from Jimmie's roster of ex-girlfriends. He meets with each of them in turn, and each of them has a different, but very good, reason for turning him down. However, damned few of these women are remotely funny, although Jennifer Esposito, as a tough cop, and a surprising Brooke Shields, as a money-hungry debutante, have their moments.

Mostly, though, the film doesn't. As directed by Gary Sinyor, even fine actors like Hal Holbrook and Edward Asner come off badly -- and the script is so poorly written we never quite figure out who these two even are. The story limps from one ex-girlfriend to another, as Jimmie keeps blowing his chances. Meanwhile, Anne and her sister visit their parents, who are depicted as disgustingly lovey-dovey and honey-bunchy -- to what point? This would seem to indicate marriage is a bad thing.

In Keaton's film, his character was a decent young man who just hadn't learned enough about the world; in THE BACHELOR, O'Donnell's Jimmie comes across as a crumb who's used women all his life, and who doesn't give a tenth of a damn about anyone else. There is a wising-up scene -- in fact, the best moment in the movie, when a friendly priest (James Cromwell) tells Jimmie what a happy marriage is really like. But O'Donnell cannot make Jimmie's conversion convincing.

As in the original, at the end Jimmie is taking a nap in a church that fills up with hundreds of would-be brides, greedy for the hundred million smackers. But what was amusing in 1925 simply seems coarse and obvious in 1999 -- and then the big chase lasts all of two minutes.

The movie looks great as shot in Panavision by Simon Archer, and it makes excellent use of scenic San Francisco locations. There's a certain kind of surrealistic fascination to the shots of hundreds of white-clad women wandering the streets, but there's no payoff. The score by David A. Hughes and John Murphy is mostly awful, full of "funny" music -- always a terrible idea.

The DVD doesn't have many extras -- at least for playback on a DVD player. Used as a CD-ROM, more extras come up; you can read the script while watching the movie play back on your monitor, though it's hard to imagine who'd really want to. It also links to the Internet Movie Database, where you learn that the $21 million movie made only $21 million domestically.

It takes a certain amount of sheer brass to consider remaking a classic like SEVEN CHANCES; unfortunately, brass is about all THE BACHELOR has to recommend it.

more details
sound format:
5.1 Surround Dolby Digital
aspect ratio(s):
Letterboxed and pan & scan versions
special features: CD-Rom features
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR


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