Message in a Bottle (1999)

Directed by Luis Mandoki
Written by Gerald DiPego, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, Paul Newman, Robbie Coltrane, Jesse James

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

Meet Theresa (Penn), who's not happy.  She's jogging down the beach when she finds a...all together now...message in a bottle that has moving words of love to a woman named Catherine.  She wants to find who wrote the letter so she can learn the story behind it and maybe not be so unhappy.  The trail leads her to a man named Garrett (Costner), who's also not happy, and also to his father, Dodge (Newman),'ve guessed it, isn't happy either.  Somehow they must learn to find love...and happiness again.

Laying it on a bit thick, am I?  Don't worry, so does this film.  The cast all does okay, wading through the syrup as they are.  Costner is fair as the man of the sea, complete with albatross (Susan Brightbill).  Penn does fairly well as the unhappy divorcee with cute kid (James).  The true stand-out is Newman, loving his role as the slightly dirty old man who speaks his mind.  He makes the best of the material he can. 

The material itself could have, with some tinkering, become More Bridges of Madison County.  That's not necessarily a good thing, mind you.  It's just that well engineered to pluck at the heartstrings and yet give no substance, and in that way it's a lot like the unfortunate Ryan/Cage City of Angels.  All of the plot twists were telegraphed a mile away and the ending was unnecessarily over-the-top and just as meaningless.  It reminds me of Judi Dench's Elizabeth from Shakespeare in Love, talking about how plays cannot show the true nature of love.  The Queen would have laughed her ass off at this.  Perfectly acceptable on the small screen at two in the morning or unless you absolutely must have a cheeseball date movie for Valentine's Day.  Otherwise save your money.

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