The Love Letter

on May 21, 1999 by Mike Kerrigan
   Opening this movie just two days after "The Phantom Menace" was a stroke of genius. That way DreamWorks can blame Darth Maul and Jar Jar Binks for its failure instead of where it really belongs--on a terrible script. The leaden dialogue gives the cast nothing to work with and it's a shame because, for a moderately budgeted movie, it's a heck of an ensemble. Apart from the three top-billed there is also Tom Everett Scott ("One True Thing"), the ubiquitous Tom Selleck, talented newcomer Julianne Nicholson and a couple of icons in English stage legend Geraldine McEwan and Gloria Stuart of "Titanic" fame.
   The plot, about an anonymous love letter that is accidentally read by most of the cast and propels them into romantic encounters, is pretty unconvincing--but the real problem is with the spoken words. Usually, Ellen DeGeneres makes you laugh and makes you think; here, she just makes you wonder if she read her lines before she signed to do the film.
   Despite all that, the movie looks terrific. Hong Kong director Peter Ho-Sun Chan ("He's a Woman, She's a Man") has a wonderful eye and brings out the beauty in both the Massachusetts coast and his cast. Tragically, he also seems to have a tin ear. To call the dialogue pedestrian would be an insult to people who walk.
   A few weeks before "The Love Letter" was released, DreamWorks sent copies of the titular movie missive, which contains lines like "I no longer care for my thoughts unless they're thoughts of you," to journalists around the country. It was a brilliant stunt. One reporter thoughts she was being stalked and called the cops. An estranged couple each got a copy and thought it had come from the other. DreamWorks should have gone even further, scrapped the movie completely and sent everyone in America a copy of the letter.    Starring Kate Capshaw, Blythe Danner and Ellen DeGeneres. Directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan. Written by Maria Maggenti. Produced by Sarah Pillsbury, Midge Sanford and Kate Capshaw. A DreamWorks release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sensuality, nudity and strong language. Running time: 87 min.
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