What we've got here is a load of typical Hollywood tear-jerking crap. But, hey, it begins well as a smartass New York comedy and features three juicy roles for women. Whoopi Goldberg plays Jane DeLuca, a been-there-done-that club singer freshly dumped by her lover and her employer. When Jane sees a newspaper ad for a ride share to California, she figures L.A. might be a good place to start over. She doesn't figure that Robin Nickerson (Mary-Louise Parker), the uptight real-estate agent who placed the ad, will be playing Felix to her Oscar on their cross-country trip.
Screenwriter Don Roos (Single White Female) sets the stage for an odd-couple road movie of some promise. Goldberg and Parker show a buoyant rapport, and director Herbert Ross, a wrangler on women's films from The Turning Point to Steel Magnolias, knows the territory. A motel scene with the two watching Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in The Way We Were on a cheap TV set neatly parodies the soap genre. Robin weeps copiously, while Jane laughs it off. Ross thinks he can have it both ways.
It's no go, though the film gets another lift when Drew Barrymore shows up as Holly, a friend of Jane's from Pittsburgh who joins the ride west when Jane and Robin arrive for a visit. Barrymore's perky dazzle is always welcome. After the mawkishness sets in, you keep thinking what a different, wilder and better Boys might have been made if these three live wires had taken off and invented their own feminist farce with no frills and no bull.
But the mawkishness does set in, hard and heavy. The pregnant Holly has left an abusive boyfriend behind, tied to a chair with the help of Jane and Robin and an easy target for some thugs who decide to waste him. The women are now fugitives. And there's more. Jane is a lesbian with a growing yen for straight Robin, who has AIDS. When the three set up housekeeping in Tucson, Ariz., the plot grows enough strands to stuff a season or two of daytime dramas.
That Goldberg, Parker and Barrymore manage to hold their dignity amid the bathos is a tribute to their talents. The film itself loses all sense of shame with courtroom and deathbed histrionics that slide inexorably into camp. Who wouldn't want to see a rich, complex movie about women who keep friendship first and boys on the side? This isn't it.