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Film review: Mr. Wrong

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 21 1996 12:00 a.m. MST

With "Mr. Wrong," TV star Ellen DeGeneres tries to make the leap from the small screen to the big screen but doesn't quite get across the abyss.

And that's unfortunate. On paper, this must have seemed like a terrific idea — a dark, satirical spoof of "Fatal Attraction" with a gender-switch. In this case, DeGeneres plays the innocent whose life is turned inside-out by the one-night-stand who won't go away.

The opening scenes that set up the premise also hold promise, as DeGeneres begins to hear that ticking biological clock and wonders why she can't find a lasting relationship. Then, one night she meets Bill Pullman in a bar.

Pullman claims to be a high-rolling investor and to have published a book of poetry. He's attentive, sensitive, caring . . . in short, he seems too good to be true. (Although there is never any chemistry between them, giving some serious resonance to a brief monologue DeGeneres has about the subject.)

And, of course, he is too good to be true, which becomes apparent as Pullman reveals the more twisted sides of his personality.

When she's taken to meet his mother (Joan Plowright), DeGeneres finds herself being sized upfor marriage and children ("Good birthing hips," Plowright says), and then watches as Pullman gives Mom a hug that lasts too long and seems too intimate.

Later, DeGeneres discovers that Pullman's idea of a good time is to steal beer from the local convenience store, be chased by the shotgun-wielding owner and make slight-ly veiled racist remarks.

Meanwhile, Pullman's psycho ex-girlfriend (Joan Cusack, accompanied by a huge bruiser) begins threatening DeGeneres, at first with phone calls, then by cutting up her furniture and putting gum in her hair. Eventually, it gets more serious and ends with a shooting in a church.

Somewhere before the halfway mark, however, all these interesting ideas cease to be funny, and the downhill slide is quite steep. By the final scenes, everything is deadly dull and the laughs are completely gone.

DeGeneres and Pullman are game for all of this, though there are places where DeGeneres seems a bit uncomfortable. For her first film project, it might have been nice to give her a stronger screenwriter and director.

The script, by Chris Matheson (the "Bill & Ted" pictures), and director Nick Castle ("Major Payne," "Dennis the Menace") seem unable to provide the guidance that could have made this a stronger film.

In fact, there are places where even Matheson and Castle seem ill-at-ease with their own premise, as if they are trying to make both a dark satire and a bright, light comedy. The result is like oil and water.

"Mr. Wrong" does have some laughs — all in the first couple of reels — but after it begins to fall apart, the film rapidly unravels.

The film is rated PG-13 for violence, sex, profanity and vulgarity.

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