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Behind the Scenes
  Bonnie Hunt
Return to Me
  it's worth $4.25
Long ago, in a conference room far, far away, somebody pitched Return to Me in this simple, direct fashion: "Grace has Bob's dead wife's heart." These six words (not to be confused with the six words that launched another borrowed organ story, Heart Condition, a title which I'm sure the writers of Return to Me were bitter was already taken) survive unscathed after years on the shelf, spoken by writer/director and perennial supporting player Bonnie Hunt.

Return to Me starts off promisingly enough, with David Duchovny on the job in a hardhat at a construction site. Nothing is finer than the idea of a wifebeater-clad Mulder sweating under the Chicago sun in buffed-up, dress-down mode; unfortunately, it quickly turns out that Duchovny's Bob is actually the boss of the outfit and lives in more splendor than an FBI agent could even dream of. Sigh. At least he drives a pick-up truck.

Bob cohabitates with wife Elizabeth (Joely Richardson), although she's more comfortable with an ape. No, really -- she works at the Lincoln Park Zoo and weeps oceans of tears for the poor living conditions of her long-suffering gorilla, Sydney, leaving Bob to occupy himself once she makes a quick exit to never never land ten minutes into the movie. A fatal car accident gets her out of the picture and gives Duchovny a chance to work on his "X-Files" crying skills, sobbing at his dog's feet, "She's not coming back, Mel." Just in case we weren't sure if she was dead at that moment.

The romantic comedy, which is far more interested in comedy than in romance, is full of obvious little scenes like this. Following his wife's death, Bob meets Grace (Minnie Driver). Their meet-cute at Grace's grandfather (Carroll O'Connor) and uncle's (Robert Loggia) eatery, O'Reilly's Italian Restaurant (with a name like that, probably the setting for a dozen meet-cutes) is indeed sweet and cuddly, as is their entire relationship. Yeah, it's sappy and we know every move five minutes before it arrives, but what's the harm in a sappy, predictable movie every once in a while if the stars pull it off? The two leads are what sell it; the kibitzing Italian and Irish uncle-types that appear to be the only people in the world Grace knows other than ubiquitous best friend Megan (Hunt, of course) are what make it a little fun.

The supporting guys, played by old-timers (sad, but true; you know you're an old-timer when you allow the make-up department to apply so much canned tan that you're actually a rusty orange, a fate which has befallen Loggia) O'Connor, Eddie Jones, Loggia and Wally Jatczak, huddle around a poker table after-hours at the restaurant and debate Sinatra and Crosby. Every other character in the movie seems endlessly entertained by them, although they wear thin after one subliminally lecherous look too many at the virginal Grace.

Hunt, best known for her snappy, sardonic turn as Renee Zellweger's sister in Jerry Maguire, doesn't exactly show promise with her debut as a triple hyphenate, but she doesn't beg to be exiled to a desert island, either. I could almost recommend Return to Me to the more saccharine of my acquaintances were it not for a sugary denouement. Apparently it was too much to hope for that she'd just let the character escape from the movie untarnished in our eyes, reaching that extra comedic mile for a final exit laugh. It's back to the operating table for you, Ms. Hunt.

- Erin Podolsky

Photo: MGM

HEART BROKEN: Bonnie Hunt directs and co-stars with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny in this schmaltzy romantic comedy.

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