Malta’s tourism industry will likely survive A Previous Engagement, a mirthless rom-com that sadistically strands once-prime comedic players Juliet Stevenson and Daniel Stern on the sunny Mediterranean spot in a protracted, sub-sitcom scenario. They’re a long-married Seattle couple on a second honeymoon, but what he doesn’t know, holed up in their rented villa assembling jigsaw puzzles on his knees, is that she’s fulfilling a 25-year-old vow to reunite with a onetime French lover (Tchéky Karyo), who’s as continental and literary as she is obsessed and stalkerrific. What’s with these chick-flick lovers and their contrived vows? Writer-director Joan Carr-Wiggin shoots purportedly farcical sequences so deadeningly (with sledgehammer music cues from Phil Ochs, Alan Price, and some hideous contemporary adult-alternative) that fiftysomething characters who could’ve been made wryly identifiable by peak-Blake Edwards seem dangerously psychotic. Stevenson forces you to smile when her long-suffering librarian starts rambling about a phobia of bridges forcing her to flee San Francisco, but then she’s back to hiding under beds with Karyo and suffering putdowns from her slappably self-absorbed collegiate daughters who’ve crashed the proceedings. Stevenson and Stern are not plausible long-term mates for anyone here, let alone each other; the movie’s attempt to give his insurance-claims noodge a heart and a libido once he discovers his wife’s agenda is supposed to be generous, but he just gets schmuckier, buying a white suit and finding his repressed salsa-dancer with a prowling single (Valerie Mahaffey). Carr-Wiggin doesn’t even show off the locale’s beauty in more than a handful of shots; everybody’s too busy creeping through hotel corridors and stepping in mashed potatoes. It’s all loud, long, and moronic, and the traditionally put-upon desk clerks and waiters of the genre inexplicably fail to have the whole bunch arrested or poisoned. Previous Engagement prompts thoughts of an immediate purgative festival—Stevenson in Truly Madly Deeply, Stern in Diner, Malta in Altman’s Popeye—to cleanse it from your short-term memory.
- Buccaneer Films
- 118 min
- Joan Carr-Wiggin
- Joan Carr-Wiggin
- Juliet Stevenson, Tchéky Karyo, Daniel Stern, Valerie Mahaffey, Kate Miles, Claire Brosseau
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