For a while you think this movie – a romantic comedy about the gut-busting work of staying married – is onto something. Ben Jordan (Bruce Willis) and his wife, Katie (Michelle Pfeiffer), have been at it for fifteen years. They’re tired of pretending. When their two kids go to summer camp, they take a shot at a trial separation. Willis and Pfeiffer give their roles a lived-in quality that pulls you in. You can see the love that was there and feel their confusion about just when and how they lost it.
So you get your hopes up. Director Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally) knows the territory. Also, writer Alan Zweibel, who co-wrote the script with Jessie Nelson, has a sharp tongue honed on Saturday Night Live and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. And then, poof, the movie turns into bogus drivel courtesy of the sitcom monster.
Ben, who works as a writer, is a slob. Katie, who designs crossword puzzles, is a neat freak. They’re the odd couple. And the script gives them sitcom friends: Reiner plays Stan, a man who talks about making a movie of his ass (he means a colonoscopy – ha-ha), and Rita Wilson is his shrill, dirt-talking wife, Rachel. Paul Reiser shows up for more shtick, as do Red Buttons, Betty White, Jayne Meadows and Tom Poston. A film about modern marriage is suddenly a refugee camp for Nick at Nite. Even Willis, who starts strong, is sucked into the jokey maw. Only Pfeiffer plays it for real, and in a long, final monologue she breaks your heart despite the hollow air. Pfeiffer, sadly, is acting alone.