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Mrs. Winterbourne

Directed by Richard Benjamin. Starring Ricki Lake, Shirley MacLaine, Brendan Fraser, Loren Dean. (1996, PG-13, 106 min.)

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 26, 1996

The improbabilities pile up on top of each other in Mrs. Winterbourne, an anxious-to-please romantic comedy about mistaken identity that sounds vaguely familiar. Let's see: A lonely young woman with a newborn baby pretends to be the wife of a dead man, falls in love with the dead man's brother, and can't bring herself to confess to the ruse because she's finally found the family (a rich family, at that) she's never really had. Can you say While You Were Sleeping? Although not exactly identical in plotline, there are enough similarities between the respective synopses of this movie and the Sandra Bullock sleeper to once again verify that originality is not Hollywood's forte. But where a believable romance -- as well as an appealing female lead -- buoyed While You Were Sleeping, the lackluster Mrs. Winterbourne hasn't much to keep it from sinking. The love story between the snobbish Fraser and Jersey girl Lake defies explanation -- they tango, they fall in love -- and Lake seems devoid of any personality. (That talk show has probably dehumanized her….). Director Benjamin paces the film with an occasional swear word, which is meant to be cute and endearing, and sight gags such as an infant boy pissing a stream of urine into the face of his future dad, which is meant to be cute and endearing as well. Most annoying -- or is that frightening? -- is MacLaine's turn as yet another grande dame, this time a down-to-earth matron of a wealthy clan who speaks in platitudes rather than sentences. MacLaine doesn't seem to act anymore in movies; her presence is more that of an icon than an actor. (Watching her schtick here makes you long for the fresh, unaffected quality of that performer who shined so brightly in The Apartment or Some Came Running.) When she and Lake are onscreen together, the dynamic throws Mrs. Winterbourne completely out of balance -- on the one hand, the seasoned ham who uses every trick at her disposal to dominate the scene and, on the other, the unseasoned neophyte who looks lost without a mike.
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