As a screenwriter, whenever Neil Simon abandons the urban milieu, as in MURDER BY DEATH, THE CHEAP DETECTIVE and THE SLUGGER'S WIFE, his jokes become strained and his comedy undercuts itself in cliches and uncomfortable narrative development. So too with this glitzy, shaggy-dog story.
Despite a brassy jazz score, a nervy directorial style by Jerry Rees and Donald E. Thorin's neon-soaked cinematography, THE MARRYING MAN is continually foiled by Simon's troublesome screenplay, relegating the film to the pantheon of other Simon mistakes.
The story begins amidst the blaring neon jazz clubs of San Francisco circa 1956, where an annoying group of successful creative types, headed by Phil (Paul Reiser), halt their cab in front of a club when they hear the familiar voice of singer Vicki Anderson (Kim Basinger). Sitting down at a table
inside, Phil recalls the precarious romance between Vicki and an old friend of the boys, Charley Pearl (Alec Baldwin).
A flashback to the late 40s recalls that Charley, a cocky and self-assured toothpaste heir, is set to marry Hollywood mogul Lew Horner's (Robert Loggia) daughter Adele (Elisabeth Shue). Horner is leery of Charley's frivilousness but agrees to the marriage for the sake of Adele. Before the
wedding, the boys take Charley on a bachelor's jaunt to Las Vegas. There Charley first sees Vicki, seductively singing in a casino. Charley immediately is smitten with Vicki. Even when he is warned that she is Bugsy Siegel's (Armand Assante) girlfriend, he is set on seeing her. Speaking with her
at the casino bar, she agrees to see him at her place. Once Charley gets there, they make love. But Bugsy has found out about it and surprises them. To get even with Charley and Vicki, he forces them to get married, and, the next day, Charley's picture is splashed over the newspapers. Later he
gets the marriage anulled and Vicki walks out of his life.
Back in Los Angeles, Lew Horner is livid. But Charley agrees to mend his ways and Horner arranges for a quiet wedding between Charley and Adele. However, Charley finds himself in a Los Angeles club where he sees Vicki performing. Back in her dressing room, they make love once again and decide to
remarry. Following their nuptials, Lew Horner sends his goons to beat up Charley and effectively has Vicki blacklisted from getting a job in Hollywood. Suddenly, Charley is told that his father has had a stroke and Charley and Vicki go to Boston to see him. His father dies and Charley assumes
control of the family toothpaste empire, but Vicki feels stifled in the uptight Boston atmosphere. When Charley loses his desire for her, Vicki leaves him.
Time passes and Charley finds himself back in California with his pals. Driving through Las Vegas they come upon Vicki's name on a poster. They go to the casino to see her only to discover that the casino is being run by one of Bugsy's henchmen. After a fight, they grab Vicki and rescue her from
the gangsters. At a motel that night, Vicki and Charley get together again and decide to get married--again. Charley uses the remains of his fortune to build a movie studio to help her career. But Vicki has a collection of children instead and Charley ends up going broke. Vicki manages to salvage
a bit of her singing career and Charley resents her success at his expense. After a heated argument, she walks out.
Now, back in 1956, Phil sees Charley enter the club. The boys gather around Charley, who announces that he plans to propose to Vicki and shows them an engagement ring. Vicki, singing, comes up to the table and puts the ring on her finger. When Charley is asked why he would want to marry the same
woman four times, he replies "It fits."
While the restrictions of theater production continually spark Simon's brilliance, the jokes and gags making the characters ring with life, the vast expanse of cinema paradoxically constricts his creativity. The chief narrative problem is in the relationship between Charley and Vicki. Although
much emphasis is made in the script about the duo being "hot" for each other, the characters seem to be forever in the impending throes of divorce. For every love scene, there is a hate scene. The bitterness becomes more convincing than the love. When Charley and Vicki find themselves back
together again, it seems less a matter of love than another forced marriage, the filmmakers taking their cues from Bugsy Siegel.
THE MARRYING MAN is a throwback to such golden chestnuts of the rise-and-fall love story as WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? and A STAR IS BORN. Simon also borrows from such nostalgic comedies as Woody Allen's BROADWAY DANNY ROSE and his own THE HEARTBREAK KID. In fact, the most successful section of THE
MARRYING MAN is its first half, where Robert Loggia's irate father-to-be mirrors the Charles Grodin-Eddie Albert-Cybil Shepherd conflict in THE HEARTBREAK KID.
A film comedy must be extremely self-assured to succeed, but THE MARRYING MAN treads water from the moment the Elisabeth Shue-Robert Loggia plot is dropped. Either Simon was unsure of the direction the film had to take or there were too many wooden spoons in the mixing bowl. But, for whatever
reason, the film loses track of itself and becomes an episodic travesty with the holes filled with the trademark Neil Simon timing and jokes. He's gasping for air and an ending and neither arrives.
Stars Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin fit adequately into the Neil Simon timbre, and there are some exceptional performances by Armand Assante and Robert Loggia. But for most of its running time, THE MARRYING MAN is an empty-headed, stylistic mess.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: As a screenwriter, whenever Neil Simon abandons the urban milieu, as in MURDER BY DEATH, THE CHEAP DETECTIVE and THE SLUGGER'S WIFE, his jokes become strained and his comedy undercuts itself in cliches and uncomfortable narrative development. So too with t… (more)