Film review: Speechless

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 20 1994 12:00 a.m. MST

If Jim Carrey's "Dumb and Dumber" isn't your cup of tea, you might want to consider "Speechless," which could be dubbed "Smart and Smarter."

Michael Keaton and Geena Davis star, and their rapport is perfect — as is their often hilarious banter — as a pair of squabbling speechwriters for opposing New Mexico senatorial candidates. This is intelligent romantic comedy of the kind we get all too seldom these days, and the plot is something Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn would have loved in their prime. (Think also of the real-life pairing of James Carville and Mary Matalin, who got together while working for opposing candidates during the most recent presidential election.)

As the film opens, Davis is established as the long-time speech-writer for her candidate, helping him get through the last days of his latest campaign, as they camp out in a hotel and prepare for a debate. Keaton, a former speechwriter who has more recently been working on a television sitcom, has been lured back into the political fray to help the opposing candidate.

Both Keaton and Davis are insomniacs and they meet in an all-night convenience store where they argue over and ultimately share the last bottle of Nytol. Of course, they find themselves attracted to each other, but they lie about their professions. It's only a matter of time, however, before they discover the truth and draw battle lines.

To say the least, their romantic feelings complicate matters, and the rest of the film has them squaring off against each other as they try to sort out professionalism, ethics and love. And things are further muddled by the arrival of Davis' former fiance, an egotistical network TV reporter (Christopher Reeve). (If you want to really stretch things, you could consider this a "Superman"-"Batman" standoff.)

There is a lesson in chemistry here, that cinematic intangible that can make or break a movie — especially a romantic comedy. Keaton and Davis have it in spades, and their repartee is particularly charming thanks to their polished delivery. Reeve is also effective in what is essentially a reprise of his similar role in "Switching Channels."

It is unfortunate, however, that the rest of the first-rate supporting cast isn't given enough to do. When you have people of the caliber of Bonnie Bedelia, Ernie Hudson and Charles Martin Smith populating your cast, the least you can do is give them some clever personality quirks or peppy dialogue.

Director Ron Underwood ("City Slickers," "Heart and Souls") and screenwriter Robert King ("Phantom of the Mall," "Silk 2") seem satisfied with simply letting their stars carry the material — and fortunately, these stars are up to the task (and King's snappy banter is very good most of the way).

"Speechless" does run out of steam toward the end, lagging as it builds toward its climactic moments. But it's not a fatal loss of momentum, and it does pick up again at the finale.

"Speechless" is rated PG-13 for some profanity. There is also some sex (more implied than actually shown) and a bit of mild violence.

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