If you want a dead-on example of what critics mean when they call a film “product,” as opposed to, say, “entertainment” or – we should be so lucky – “art,” check out Runaway Bride. This puppy comes prepackaged, market-tested, dolled-up as shiny as shrink-wrap and priced to sell. Remember in Pretty Woman when the hooker played by Julia Roberts turned to her wealthy john (Richard Gere) and said, “I’m a sure thing”? That’s Runaway Bride.
Is Bride as good as Pretty Woman? Trick question. That tarnished Cinderella fable was the first big hit of the Nineties. But some critics, myself included, choked on the film’s unbridled zest for consumerism. What saved the day was Roberts’ star turn, her deft teamwork with Gere and the way the director, Garry Marshall, delighted in letting the supporting players – Hector Elizondo’s hotel manager, Larry Miller’s unctuous salesman – steal a few scenes.
All of the above have reunited for Runaway Bride. And none of that slutty stuff for this PG-rated bonbon. As Maggie Carpenter, a small-town Maryland girl, Roberts is selling hardware, not giving head. Maggie’s one fault is her habit of getting engaged to men she dumps at the altar. The fact that she’s about to have a fourth go, this time with Coach Bob (Christopher Meloni), excites the tabloid heart of New York reporter Ike Graham (Gere). This feminist-baiter hits town to watch Maggie run again, only to – what else? – fall in love with her himself. It’s a sitcom plot, loaded with sitcom jokes (an old lady gushes about Ike’s “tight butt”) and directed by sitcom shtick master Marshall. Roberts rides above it all with her usual smiling radiance, and it helps having the great Joan Cusack around as her best pal. Gere exudes rumpled charm, which helps when the same old lady starts hyperventilating about the bride’s fear of the “one-eyed snake.” For the real deal in romantic comedy, stick with Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. It’s about feeling, not product.