Movie Review: Inquest into a career-killer — “The Accidental Husband”

The advertising standee dominated a hallway of my favorite cineplex for what seemed like years and years.

“The Accidental Husband” was an Uma Thurman rom-com — her last shot at that genre — co-starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, taking one more stab at mimicking that Gerard Butler “action” and “rom-com” career model. It co-starred Mister Rom-Com and future Oscar winner Colin Firth, and Isabella Rossellini, Sam Shepard and even “2001” survivor Keir Dullea.

And the reason that larger-than-life stand-up poster blocked a big chunk of the crown jewel in the Regal Cinemas chain for so long is that everything that could go wrong with a movie post-production did. Well, aside from the finished negative being destroyed in a fire, I guess.

Producing dilettante Bob Yari put this multi-writer project, directed by to-the-manner-born actor turned director Griffin Dunne project into production, and was set to release it under his own start-up banner when all went bust. It showed up in Britain and sat in cinema limbo in the US until going straight to video. A few people reviewed it in 2009-10, and it dropped out of sight.

It’s worth holding an inquest over because what we see on the screen isn’t excruciating, even if there is a cringeworthy quality to the very idea of it and indeed to Dunne’s entire woebegone career behind the camera.

The premise seems borrowed from a Dolly Parton comedy of the last century — “Straight Talk.” Thurman plays a glib New York radio “advice” hostess, the author of “R.E.A.L. Love,” a self-help book titled for the facile “test” everybody should apply to a potential mate before saying “I do.”

Is that partner “Respectable,” “Adult,” “Loving,” etc. Yeah, it’s kind of sexist, but women are her audience, so OK.

Dr. Emma turns that “test” on caller Sofia (Justina Machado), who is about to marry NYC fireman Patrick (Morgan), prompting Sofia to bail and her hunky, handsome and possibly even “respectable,” “adult” and “loving” fiance has to hear this on the radio on his way home from a soccer match.

A few tipsy nights later, he’s talked the hacker-son of the extended Indian clan that runs the restaurant he lives upstairs from (Sarita Choudhury and Ajay Naidu among them) into getting even with the famous love guru by inventing a digital marriage…to him. She’s engaged to her publisher, quite-a-catch Richard (Firth). Here’s a rude surprise for them when they try to secure a wedding license.

Dr. Emma, not suspecting a thing, has to track down and charm this pool-playing pubfly to sign and notarize a phonebook worth of papers annulling the “marriage” so that she can happily-ever-after with Quite a Catch Richard. Naturally, blue collar hunk Patrick isn’t going to sign anything until he’s made her suffer, and perhaps taught her a lesson.

With such an elaborate — if icky — “meet cute,” could “love” be in the offing, somewhere between the beer-and-shots meetup, the wedding cake tasting and her first exposure to his Indian friends?

What strikes me, catching up to “Husband” all these years later, is the level of commitment of the cast.

Start-up studios always spend too much money hiring stars nobody else is beating a door down to cast filming scripts most studios have already passed on. Jennifer Lopez is usually the first name they think of.

And Griffin Dunne’s unblemished record behind the camera — he went on to make “Movie 43” — points to a studio being run by people who had no idea what they were doing.

But Thurman throws herself at this New York-filmed extravaganza as if the state was coming to take her kids if it wasn’t a hit. She’s borderline manic, relentlessly upbeat in scene after scene, be it shooting pool and doing shots with Morgan’s Patrick or embodying romantic sophistication with Firth.

Seeing her give her all to the pratfalls and play drunk like “Pulp Fiction” was just a warm-up is a wonder to behold.

Morgan amps up the charm, as if guessing this might be his only shot at jumping from TV to mainstream movie success. He got three, actually — “The Losers,” “Watchmen” and this. Thank heaven for “The Walking Dead,” right JDM?

Firth is Firth, Rossellini charms as the beaming, giggling wife of a German corporate raider (Dullea) about to take over Richard’s publishing house, and Shepard, of all people, manages an offhanded, lighthearted ease as Emma’s ever-tomcatting Dad, a guy who’s been judged by his daughter enough to relish her little predicament, but not too much.

“Don’t keep your husbands waiting.”

Movies like “Accidental Husband” remind me of why I rarely blame the players when a rom-com goes wrong. Thurman gives her all to fake chemistry with these two, and both co-stars give as good as they get, and it’s never quite enough to come off.

The script is crap, the direction lackluster, and an awful lot of cash is left on the table in this poker-game of a comedy. There were more laughs to be played for in the radio hostess side of things, more giggles in the WASP fireman’s connection to the Indian family that’s all but adopted him, more broad humor in the Richard-Emma connection and rift.

The script doesn’t find them and Dunne doesn’t go looking for them on his own.

It wasn’t in the cards for “The Accidental Husband” to be a hit. But in better hands, it might have managed “Respectable,” earnest, “adult” and “loving.” It lives on as an artifact of a big screen career that might have been, or might have been extended, a director who talks a better game than he directs and a distributing studio/vanity project that never was and never should have parted with the cash in the first place.

Rating: PG-13 (Some Sexual Content|Brief Strong Language)

Cast: Uma Thurman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Colin Firth, Sam Shepard, Isabella Rossellini and Keir Dullea.

Credits: Directed by Griffin Dunne, scripted by Mimi Hare, Clare Naylor, Bonnie Sikowitz. A Bob Yari release streaming pretty much everywhere.

Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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