Chris O’Donnell, soon to be typecast as Robin the Boy Wonder in “Batman Forever,” enjoys a last fling with civilian near-normalcy in “Mad Love,” a quirky and challenging, but ultimately conventional, romantic drama from English director Antonia Byrd.
Byrd, who makes her Hollywood debut with this one, stood in controversy’s way this spring as the director of “Priest,” the hot-potato film about homosexuality and intolerance within the Roman Catholic Church. “Mad Love” has a vastly safer topic - and one to which more people, probably, can relate.
That subject matter is teenage emotional instability, and it is a pitfall into which O’Donnell topples eagerly and without thinking. The object of his downfall is played by Drew Barrymore, who manages to convey a sweet-natured innocence and a treacherous eroticism in the same stroke of good acting.
For Barrymore, “Mad Love” is typecasting of another sort - the same sort of “dangerous” part that the great John B.’s granddaughter has been dealing with since “Poison Ivy” and “GunCrazy” in the early ‘90s. She seems sweeter here, but no less predisposed to instability. O’Donnell is right in his element as the upright and responsible middle-class schoolboy who finds himself attracted to her opposite nature.
Their attraction is so convincing that O’Donnell abandons all good sense and hits the road with Barrymore to escape parental pressures that would wedge them apart. Then he begins to understand, shatteringly, why the parental pressures existed.
Typecasting aside, Barrymore is such a commanding actor that she helps “Mad Love” to transcend its essence as merely a youth-runs-wild exploitation film - with, admittedly, a more generous budget and name-brand actors. Paula Milne’s screenplay pulls its punches at crucial moments, but at least it requires O’Donnell’s character to make a responsible choice upon comprehending that he must give up this destructive romance. Byrd’s directing style has urgency and compassion.
xxxx “Mad Love” Location: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Coeur d’Alene cinemas. Credits: Directed by Antonia Byrd, starring Drew Barrymore, Chris O’Donnell Running time: 1:39 Rating: PG-13