Message In A Bottle

on February 12, 1999 by L. J. Strom
   Based on Nicholas Sparks' novel, "Message in a Bottle" is a tepid, predictable, unnecessarily long weepie. Theresa (Robin Wright Penn) is a divorced mother and Chicago newspaper researcher who finds the eponymous message while vacationing on the East Coast. Touched by the heartfelt note addressed to a woman named Catherine, she employs her newspaper's resources to track down the author of the message. Her efforts lead her to Garret (Kevin Costner), a boat mender in a seaside North Carolina town who was widowed two years earlier. Nudged by his cantankerous father, Dodge (Paul Newman), Garret tentatively begins a relationship with Theresa. But he finds it difficult to get past the grief he feels over his wife's death, and Theresa has a few issues of her own, not the least of which is how and when to explain the circumstances that led her to him in the first place. Can this relationship be saved?
   In its general premise of the widower who is eloquent in his bereavement and the woman who seeks him out because of it, the film is reminiscent of "Sleepless in Seattle." But while "Sleepless" had a wry, winsome sense of humor and charm to spare, "Message in a Bottle" is only sporadically amusing and treats its thin story with unwarranted gravity. The result is a would-be heart-wrencher whose attempts at naturalistic, conversational realism fall flat; though awkward pauses and nervous laughter may be the stuff of everyday life, their effect here is to suck the air out of scene after blandly written scene.
   The flimsy script doesn't help the actors, either. Costner and Penn appear to be floundering and share little, if any, chemistry. Newman does garner a few laughs as the crotchety yet lovable old coot, but even he can't turn this earnestly average movie into an affair to remember. Starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and Paul Newman. Directed by Luis Mandoki. Written by Gerald DiPego. Produced by Denise DiNovi, Jim Wilson and Kevin Costner. A Warner Bros. release. Romance. Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality. Running time: 131 min
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