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Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Love is never having to say he's not worth it



Committed

Rating: * * * 1/2
Director: Lisa Krueger
Running time: 98 minutes
Language: English
Opens late July at Cine Amuse East/West in Shibuya

This is a story about love: In college, my friend Tatsu was casually dating a pink-cheeked, demure lass from a women's university. Tatsu was a predatory oaf who'd been around the block, but for this girl he was the one and only.

News photo
Heather Graham in Lisa Krueger's "Committed"

One night we went over to his apartment and found she had polished it with a meticulousness that would impress an English butler. On the kitchen table a bowl of flowers was arranged just so and beside it was a little love note in a red envelope. The fridge was crammed with plastic containers of homemade foods, each hand-labeled and color-coded into vitamin groups. While the rest of us cracked up in the background, Tatsu sank into a chair. With the air of one who has just heard his sentence in court, he rested his head in both hands and said quietly: "This is it. I can never be free again." Two years later, they were married.

And this is the moral: Never be afraid to go after someone, no matter how corny you become in the process. Love stories do not emerge when you play it cool. Love stories exist because at some point, one or both sides of a couple get a little unhinged. Go out on a limb. Walk through fire. Move heaven and earth. And "Committed" is a movie in which a woman does all these things, often at the same time.

Lisa Krueger ("Manny and Lo") helms this woman-gone-overboard love story, which could well be the antimatter version of "The Rules" or the "How to Make a Man Love You in Eight Short Days" tips listed in Cosmopolitan. Here it is girls, all the worst mistakes a woman could possibly make in a love relationship, such as obsessively running after a man and when he says no, obsessively running after him some more. Repeat ad nauseam. And though we may laugh, it's a slightly nervous laughter. Who can say they've never once in their lives been corny? Who? So here's "Committed": a movie that reaches out to the corny part in us all.

Heather Graham plays Jolene, a beautiful and high-spirited young woman who never does anything halfway. She sticks to all her promises, carries out all her commitments and pledges her undying love to husband Carl (Luke Wilson). On their wedding day, she had a picture of a diamond ring tattooed on her finger to show that her love really was for life. Even though Jolene runs a successful New York nightclub, she finds time to cook, fuss over Carl and plan surprise birthday parties for him.

In spite of all this, Carl leaves. Abruptly and inexplicably. Jolene gets one lousy note on the kitchen table and one cheap postcard with a cactus on it, explaining his need to "get away" and "be by himself."

Jolene is so crushed she goes into a waking coma. But being a woman of action, she finally decides to go find Carl. Judging from the cactus and her own gut instinct, Texas is where he must be. She rents a car and wanders all over the state, then spots his byline in an El Paso newspaper (Carl is a food photographer). She stakes out his workplace, follows him home and discovers that he has an entirely new life and cute girlfriend Carmen (Patricia Velasquez).

This is where Jolene shows the stuff she's made of: She introduces herself to Carmen, who is first horrified to learn Carl is married and then firmly allies herself to Jolene. Carmen takes Jolene to her witch-doctor grandpa, who teaches her all kinds of Mexican voodoo rituals to turn Carl's heart around. As Jolene prays and prostrates herself in the desert, Carl's neighbor Neil (Goran Visnjic) makes plaintive pheromonal advances but she doesn't give him an inch.

And while all this drama is unfolding just 10 yards from his house, Carl remains his dense, oblivious self, unaware that his wife has tracked him down and is camped out in the desert with half the population of El Paso rooting for her.

Graham gets plenty of enjoyment out of juggling all the delightful contradictions that make up this story: smart businesswoman sporting blonde locks and bimbo-esque outfits; staunch believer in fidelity but still sexy to all men; intelligent and logical but susceptible to voodoo; incredibly fair-skinned but never burned by the desert sun under which she chants all day. Her exaggerated, girlish good looks perfectly match this zany fairy tale in which love (the real, monogamous, everlasting kind) prevails.

The only off-note is Carl -- the kind of self-centered creep who deserves none of Jolene's heavy-duty affections. And isn't that just how it works? Tatsu, by the way, is now the father of three and very happy.



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