Runaway Bride

Aug 4, 1999 at 12:00 am

Star quality is elusive, but there’s no doubt that Julia Roberts possesses it. Love her or hate her, she has the ability to light up the screen with charisma alone.

She’s an actress of limited range: An inherent modernity makes her ineffective in period parts (Mary Reilly, Michael Collins) and a breezy, effusive nature keeps her career women from being professionally viable (Conspiracy Theory, I Love Trouble). But in roles that emphasize her quirky personality, she shines.

Roberts’ coltish onscreen presence in Runaway Bride shows her ability to mesh extremes. She plays Maggie Carpenter – who runs her father’s hardware store in small-town Hale, Maryland – as a post-feminist combination of a tomboy and a flirt, a creature that both sexes love but distrust.

Maggie’s local claim to fame is the fact that she’s almost been married three times, but bolted from the altar before getting to "I do." She’s on the verge of attempt number four with high school football coach Bob (Christopher Meloni) when she becomes nationally notorious.

Ike Graham (Richard Gere), a procrastinator with an axe to grind, learns about Maggie from the angry rumblings of a man he encounters at his favorite bar, then features her as the man-eater du jour in his USA Today column.

Because of factual errors, Ike is fired by his editor/ex-wife, then heads straight to Hale for vindication or the full story, whichever comes first. It doesn’t take a soothsayer to predict that when Maggie and Ike get into close proximity, their mutual antagonism will be transformed into mutual attraction.

The representations of journalism as a profession are as blatantly ridiculous as the impossibly idyllic town of Hale, but Runaway Bride is an unabashedly romantic fantasy. Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott’s screenplay is tailor-made for Roberts, Gere and director Garry Marshall, who hope to recapture the chemistry of their hugely successful reformed hooker throwback, Pretty Woman (1990).

There’s an easy, gracious charm to the disposable Runaway Bride, an old-style romantic comedy about pretty people who aim for the brass ring only to discover it’s gold.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].