Kissing a Fool
1998, R, 93 min. Directed by Doug Ellin. Starring David Schwimmer, Jason Lee, Mili Avital, Bonnie Hunt, Vanessa Angel, Kari Wuhrer.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 27, 1998
Watching the tangled love triangle in Kissing a Fool, you may experience a vague sense of déjà vu. There's an element of the classic Hollywood romantic comedy here, albeit a little rough around the edges, that evokes a timeless quality grounded in the belief that true love always prevails. That said, Kissing a Fool is no The Philadelphia Story, but it's frequently engaging, a moviegoing diversion seemingly made for this throwaway time of year. The central conceit in James Frey and Doug Ellin's script involves another kind of indecent proposal: Self-centered but insecure sportscaster Max asks his best friend, the super-sensitive writer Jay, to make a pass at his fiancée Sam, so that Max will know whether his future wife will be faithful to him in marriage. Aside from the Freudian angle -- before meeting Sam, Max was a notorious womanizer -- there's something very twisted going on here from a moral perspective. But as it turns out, Kissing a Fool tells the age-old story of crisscrossed love finally righting itself in the last reel in a contemporary way that's this side of superficial, down to its last f-word. It's not without its problems however; the film often has trouble bridging plot point to plot point (either a script or editing shortcoming), and some of the characters' critical motivations seem out of left field. (Max's sudden lack of confidence as to whether he can sexually satisfy Sam in their nuptial bed stems from the fact that she went to an all-girls Catholic school. Obviously, the guy has listened to one too many bad Billy Joel songs.) Schwimmer, who is also the film's executive producer, has the showy role of Max, no doubt attempting to prove a comedic ability outside the rather limited range offered by the schmuck character he plays weekly on television's Friends. He's all right in the part, although the character's obnoxiousness escalates to such a degree as the film progresses that you're left to wonder why anyone would be his best friend, fiancée, mother, or even household pet. (The movie's martyrized transformation of Max in the end simply isn't believable.) The women in Kissing a Fool aren't fleshed out very well either -- the movie is really cruel to Angel, who plays Jay's horrible ex-girlfriend -- although Avital is winning, even if a little passive, as the woman caught in the middle. The real star turn comes in Lee's performance as Jay. Although his overemphatic delivery sometimes demands a little more subtlety, Lee projects something for the first time in this movie: a warm vulnerability, coupled with a guileless sexiness. When his boyish appeal breaks through in Kissing a Fool, there's no question who's going to get the girl.