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Mr. Wonderful

Forget using “Mr.” in a movie title these days. Look what Mr. Saturday Night did for Billy Crystal or Mr. Baseball for Tom Selleck or Mr. Nanny for Hulk Hogan. And the recent stinker Mr. Jones will haunt Richard Gere for a long time: Featuring this subtly controlled actor as a manic mental patient (where was Robin Williams?) has to be the year’s primo casting boner.

Matt Dillon seems to be asking for trouble by taking on the lead role in Mr. Wonderful, an artificial romantic comedy that is nonetheless — talk about faint praise — the best of the recent Mr. movies. Though Dillon is a vibrant screen presence, he needs another film as strong as Drugstore Cowboy to move him into the front ranks. This isn’t it. But British director Anthony Minghella (Truly, Madly, Deeply) shows a flair with actors that comes in handy when the contrivances in the script by Amy Schor and Vicki Polon start to make you wince.

Dillon plays Gus, a New York electrician who wants to find a husband for his college-student ex-wife Lee (Annabella Sciorra) so he can marry his nurse girlfriend, Rita (the enchanting Mary-Louise Parker), and use the money he wastes on alimony to buy a share in a bowling alley. With only a few months to raise the cash, Gus lines up potential Mr. Wonderfuls for Lee — who is screwing a married professor (William Hurt) — until he realizes that he has loved Lee all along.

To believe in Gus’ scheme and Lee’s willingness to go along with it is not just a strain on audience credulity; think of the actors (Vincent d’Onofrio, Brooke Smith and Bruce Kirby are especially fine in smaller roles) who have to play this rank nonsense as if it made sense. Without that yeoman cast effort and Dillon’s easy charm, Mr. Wonderful could easily be mistaken for Mr. Potatohead.


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