Meg Ryan has often been adorably ditsy. But she’s never been as self-consciously adorably ditsy as she is in “French Kiss,” which is also the first movie she’s co-produced.
She behaves like a child star who’s been told too often how cute she is. Every mannerism, gesture and inflection that once earned a laugh or a smile has been trotted out, overcooked and methodically drained of whatever spontaneity it once had. She gives a parody of a Meg Ryan performance, and no one appears to have told her the spectacle is a shade grotesque.
It’s not entirely Ryan’s fault that she seems lost, trying to find some sign of character logic in the role she plays. Cast as a phobic American who’s been dumped by her fiance, she’s supposed to be both hopelessly obsessed and utterly engaging as she flies to France to break up the fiance’s new relationship.
“I’m gonna make him love me,” she declares, adding “I know I will triumph” as she stands outside the Arc de Triomphe. Intentionally or not, she suggests a bizarrely split personality, and she barely connects with the rest of the movie: a slow, predictable hash about a screwball-comedy types we’ve seen before.
There’s the life-loving French crook (Kevin Kline) who teaches Ryan’s naive romantic how to wake up and smell the grape vines (he really wants to retire from crime and run a vineyard) as he gives his mangled English a familiar Inspector Clouseau twist. There’s the insensitive fiance (Timothy Hutton) who gets cold feet at the first sign of commitment and jumps in the sack with a pouty Frenchwoman he calls a “gawd-ess” (Susan Anbeh).
Kline’s pals on the Continent include a cheerfully amoral Parisian policeman (Jean Reno) who bends the rules to help Kline, and another suave French sleaze (Francois Cluzet) who steals Ryan’s bags. There’s also a snooty Parisian concierge (Laurent Spielvogel) who gives Ryan a lecture on American sexual hypocrisy - then gets a lecture from Ryan on how rude he is. Later she announces that the only way to deal with arrogant Frenchmen is to undermine their superiority by dishing out plenty of insults in return.
Adam Brooks’ script tries for Billy Wilder’s sophistication about European stereotypes, but it comes closer to Prof. Henry Higgins’ declaration that “the French don’t care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.” Compared with a smart 1990s comedy about American-European relations such as Whit Stillman’s “Barcelona,” its perceptions seem stale.
The director, Lawrence Kasdan, has worked well with Kline in the past (“The Big Chill,” “Silverado,” “Grand Canyon”), but they can’t get the old chemistry going.
Kline seems game enough, and there are moments near the end of “French Kiss” when he and Ryan start to click. Sentimental they may be, but those are also the moments when Brooks’ script comes closest to suggesting that there’s more than one dimension to at least a couple of his characters.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “French Kiss” Location: Newport, East Sprague and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, starring Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, Timothy Hutton, Susan Anbeh Running time: 108 minutes Rating: PG-13