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Prelude to a Kiss Reviews

Alec Baldwin's redeeming love for insomniac barmaid Meg Ryan is sorely tested in the screen adaptation of Prelude to a Kiss, a talky, didactic fantasy-romance from the creators of LONGTIME COMPANION. With few friends and no family, Peter Hoskins (Baldwin, reprising his role from the hit Broadway play), an editor of scientific journals on microfiche, is the quintessential urban lonely guy. One night at a party, however, all that changes when he meets Rita Boyle (Ryan), a lively, lovely insomniac, would-be graphic artist and full-time bartender in Chicago. Peter finds he can't get Rita out of his mind and, when he goes to see her at the bar where she works, he's relieved and overjoyed to find the feelings to be mutual. After a whirlwind courtship, the two get married at the home of Rita's parents (Ned Beatty and Patty Duke). Despite the fact that nobody at the wedding seems to know the elderly man (Sydney Walker) lingering at the fringes of the reception and nibbling on chicken wings, the good spirits of the day lead Rita to consent when he asks to kiss the bride. Immediately afterwards, Rita begins acting extremely odd, not unlike the way she might act if she had switched souls with an elderly man. The elderly man, Julius, meanwhile, now begins lingering around Peter's house. As Peter begins to feel more and more alienated from Rita, he becomes more and more desperate. Out wandering one night in the rain, he winds up in the bar where Rita used to work, where he finds Julius. The two of them piece together what has happened and begin plotting how they might bring Julius back together with Rita to remedy the soul-switch. Once they do, they find that Julius has grown as bored with living in Rita's body as Rita has become desperate to get out of Julius's body, which, suffering from cancer, has less than a year to live. It's hard to argue with PRELUDE TO A KISS's sentiments. But as a movie it's stilted, talky and dramatically inert, betraying its stage origins in its emphasis on character over action. Unfortunately, these characters aren't all that interesting. Baldwin's Hoskins is an overfamiliar type, the hapless romantic schlemiel whose life is transformed by love, as is Ryan's Rita, the urban gamine, descended from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY's Holly Golightly, who is as charmingly whimsical in fiction as she would probably be unbearably whimsical in real life. Both suffer from that over-insistent brightness and over-articulate archness that is characteristic of many contemporary urban stage works. In short, they are both overwritten. They talk constantly and incessantly in clever aphorisms that make you wish they'd shut up a while and let their brains cool off. The problem is that they can't, since the plot, past its premise, is scant to nonexistent. Perhaps there's been nothing quite like it on stage. However, as a movie, PRELUDE TO A KISS bears a distinct resemblance to the spate of body-switching comedies of recent years, 1988's BIG the most notable among them, that quickly wore out their welcomes with tired repetitions of the same sophomoric jokes and situations. Adapted by Craig Lucas from his own play, PRELUDE TO A KISS steers clear of comparisons to its hackneyed predecessors without ever finding anything of interest to replace the cliches. The chief innovation is in focusing on Hoskins, the man in the middle and, almost by definition, the least interesting of the trio; given the choice, most people would probably be more curious about what it would be like to be in somebody else's body than what it would be like to find all the interior qualities that attracted them to someone transferred into the least appealing package imaginable. As too many current American movies that are awash neither in sex nor violence try to do, PRELUDE TO A KISS focuses its main energy on teaching its characters obvious, uplifting lessons. By finding himself more attracted to an elderly gentleman with the interior qualities of the woman he loves rather than a young, sexy woman with the soul of an elderly man, Hoskins learns of love that, in the words of Warren Zevon, "You can't start it like a car, and you can't stop it with a gun." Julius learns, despite having a youthful body, that life can be duller the second time around while Rita, who is portrayed as something of a cynic, learns the even more obvious lesson that youth can be wasted on the young. The problem is that the audience learns the lessons long before the characters do. In fact, there's a good chance that many have learned them before they even walked into the theater, all of which, despite good performances all around (especially from the increasingly accomplished Ryan, who's so good at the "soul switch" she's eerie), make PRELUDE TO A KISS play more like a dirge. (Adult situations.)