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Speechless

Directed by Ron Underwood. Starring Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Christopher Reeve, Bonnie Bedelia, Ernie Hudson, Charles Martin Smith, Gailard Sartain, Ray Baker.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 16, 1994

They quip well together. I'll give Michael Keaton and Geena Davis that much. Since not much else occurs in Speechless, this quipping chemistry is a good thing. The characters quip, they come precipitously close to having sex, their hot clench is cut short for some pressing reason or another, they quip some more, they consummate, a big misunderstanding occurs, quip, quip, misunderstanding resolved, and… they quip happily ever after. This romantic comedy about the sparks generated between a man and a woman, both speechwriters for opposing political candidates, is the first completed project of Forge Productions, the new production company helmed by husband-and-wife team Renny Harlin and Geena Davis. Certainly this setup has resonances of the much-publicized Mary Matalin/James Carville romance, though the script for Speechless was written well before those adversarial lovebirds became national celebrities. It's the kind of romantic script that would appeal to director Underwood (City Slickers, Heart and Souls) who, increasingly, is molding a career for himself as a spokesman for the perpetual thirtysomethings, having switched thematic course from his breakthrough disaster movie, Tremors. Keaton and Davis star as the rival speechwriters, Kevin and Julia, whose magnetic attraction to each other is so irresistible that they can't fight it -- though, try they do. And it's this frustration that forms the primary action of the movie. Intellectually, they know their pairing is incorrect but, emotionally, they tickle each other's fancies. Also complicating things is that each of them has an ex-partner lurking in the wings. (Christopher Reeve is especially entertaining in his portrayal of Baghdad Bob, a loose send-up of the Scud Stud.) But other than this chemical attraction, there is very little else that feels real in Speechless. The ex-partners are paper-thin obstacles, the political candidates are jokes, the romantic exchanges are the stuff of fantasy. Do we, for instance, really believe that these two hardened insomniacs first meet in the middle of the night while battling each other for the hotel gift shop's last bottle of Nytol? Nytol? (On a side note, I am hereby giving notice that I am instituting an automatic demerit system for any movie that couples the image of a car peeling out with the soundtrack music of “Born to Be Wild.” And, if they worsen the cliché by depicting backseat necking with shots of headlights blinking on and off and windshield wipers flapping rhythmically, as in Speechless, the movie will be automatically blackballed.) One of the more successful elements of Speechless is the running joke about the Chuck and Eddie sitcom that Kevin used to write before returning to speechwriting. Harry Shearer and Steven Wright play Chuck and Eddie in droll little episodes that keep recurring throughout the movie. Despite the fact that I consider Speechless fairly indefensible as a piece of work, I, nevertheless, find myself liking it quite a bit. It comes down to the charms of Keaton and Davis in the end. You like these characters and root for them to score. Even though the movie relies on too many trite maneuvers and dull “shot/reverse-shot” camerawork (that goes on at such great length that, at one point, we see full-frame closeups of Kevin and Julia's eyes, noses, and other facial features… Very Scary), we still get caught up in its amiable good will. Good chemistry saves the day once more.
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