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When Nature Calls

Hollywood's latest attempt to understand true love

Those who were particularly tickled by the happy-married-couple interview clips throughout the popular romantic comedy of 1989, When Harry Met Sally, might appreciate the reinterpretation of that trick .ployed a decade later in the recent release, Forces of Nature. Though what is offered this time is not the cute and tidy progression of interview clips offering a myriad of entry points to a lasting and loving relationship, all leading up to Harry and Sally settling into their life together.
Forces is peopled with unlucky-in-love couples who are more than eager to share their tales of woe with Ben (Ben Affleck) as he travels from New York City to Savannah to tie the knot with his bland and vaguely irritating Southern-belle girlfriend, Bridget (Maura Tierney). Nearly everyone Ben encounters along the way warns him of th e evils of marriage-- young double divorcees and senior citizen adulterers alike. Even Ben's best friend, Alan (the energetic and hilarious Steve Zahn), can't keep himself from heckling Ben about the end of his single life and, with it, the death of his freedom, happiness, and youth.

Ben, bizarrely enough, is no fertile ground for these seeds of doubt. He is totally convinced that the whole "till death do us part" schpiel is precisely the thing for him -- to the extent that he's able to do nothing more than roll his eyes at his bachelor party stripper in a toreador-meets-SI-swimsuit-edition getup. Who is this guy? I hate to be cynical; one wants to believe in a fellow who is so unwaveringly devoted to his gal. But this is hardly stereotypical of the dominant 20-something approach to life these days which is seeing men and women putting off things that smack of permanence -- careers, marriage, kids -- like never before.

Sarah (Sandra Bullock, and a fantastically buff Sandra Bullock, at that) to the rescue. Sarah is also headed to Savannah (not to attend Ben and Bridget's nuptials) and when the plane they're bo on sucks a CGI bird through one of its jets (the first in a series of brief and strange but funny effects in the movie) and fails to leave the airport, a string of those predictably inevitable (inevitably predictable?) Hollywood turns of events sets Sarah and Ben on the road together. The two travel a Planes, Trains and Automobiles path southward, with flaky, devil-may-care Sarah playing a sort of sexed-up John Candy to Ben's cautious Steve Martin.

What we're meant to see through their misfortunes and interactions is a chink in Ben's "I only have eyes for Bridget" armor, a chink highlighted by the undeniable spark (see: title of the film) between Ben and Sarah. But we don't. Even at a peak of sexual tension, Sandra in matching lavender and black lace lingerie standing before a gawking Ben, the ensuing kiss seems lackluster, not passionate. They're both attractive and sexy in the film, but their sex appeal is directed more toward the camera than each other.

So, it's hard to know which team to root for -- should Ben go for the enthusiastic but directionless and troubled Sarah with whom the audience, at least, knows he has no real chemistry? Or should he settle for uninteresting Bridget, with whom he at least has comfort? It doesn't really matter, in the end. Ben and Sarah's journey is quick-paced and amusing and does a fairly good job at keeping one's mind off of the maddening fact that the main character is going to end up with the wrong girl, no matter how the movie ends.

Forces of Nature
rated PG-13
1 hour 42 minutes

Sandra Bullock
Ben Affleck
Maura Tierney
Steve Zahn
Blythe Danner
Ron Cox