"Serendipity" (IMDb listing) is about fate. It is about the power behind what draws people together. The utter random-or-is-it? passion of destiny. Still, even though the screen is alive with dramatics, I could not help but wonder about the fates of John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale and director Peter Chelsom. How can we as a moviegoing nation take these talents seriously after witnessing this highly-caloric, yet deviously effective piece of froth?
Jonathan (Cusack) and Sara (Beckinsale) are two strangers who meet one Christmas-shopping night in a New York department store. Instantly smitten, Jonathan is nevertheless held at armÕs length by Sara and her preoccupation with fate. Sara decides to challenge the gods by writing her name in a book and then sells it, explaining to Jonathan that if he was really meant to be with her, he will find the book in a used book store one day and call her. Jonathan is left with a lump in his throat and crack in his heart.
Years later, both Sara and Jonathan have moved on and found fiancees (John Corbett and Bridget Moynahan). Yet the two have never bothered to forget the one chance at perfect love they shared. With the help of his best friend (Jeremy Piven), Jonathan decides on the eve of his wedding to search for Sara. Unbeknownst to Jonathan, Sara is also in the process of finding him.
After surviving the Warren Beatty disaster project "Town And Country" this year, I could definitely see why director Peter Chelsom would be so willing to jump into this light exercise of a romantic comedy. "Serendipity" is familiar and unassuming. Powering itself on the fossil fuels of similar films that have enchanted before, there is not one new idea, sight, nor sound to "Serendipity." So why did I find myself laughing at those moments of bad comedy? Or swooning over the predetermined courtship of Sara and Jonathan? Acting, my friends. ItÕs all in the acting.
Coming to expect such integrity from John Cusack, I'm confronted with "America's Sweethearts" and now this. What was once a belief that the actor was just in a bad patch is now full on confirmation that his selective process is damaged, and the simple fact that not even he really believes in the films he has been choosing. In "Serendipity," Cusack is not giving a bad performance, but more that he's just sharper than the material. He is an actor that cannot play dumb, and the breathless running around that he is required to do makes him look a little silly. Regardless, Cusack can still sell any scene like a pro and even better than his chemistry with Beckinsale is his chemistry with his faithful sidekick, Jeremy Piven.
It is that chemistry that helps act as a safety net for "Serendipity." Without these actors, all would be lost. The story is just too saccharine even for the 85 minutes allotted to the picture to survive without some talent holding it up. With the help of a throwaway turn by Molly Shannon and a cameo by the legendary Eugene Levy, "Serendipity" manages to entertain, provide some chuckles, and allow little reminders to seep through of why this type of film gets me every time.
A critical blunder is made in "Serendipity" when it comes to the "other" love interests. While Kate Beckinsale is all well and good, the Cusack character is going to marry Bridget Moynahan. The leggy, supermodel actress who was last seen as the brunette in "Coyote Ugly" is not someone you just cast aside for Kate Beckinsale. The filmmakers also write Moynahan's character as an honest, loving, attentive girlfriend. This leaves only one possible aftertaste for Cusack's Jonathan: that he is a jerk for messing up what seems to be a perfect relationship. Sara's fiancee is a new age wuss, so obviously Jonathan is the better catch, Yet with Jonathan, I couldn't say Sara is the way to go. Fate, schmate. It's Bridget Moynahan! This is just a tiny detail that ended up sticking with me more than the rest of the film did.
Whether or not it's kismet, or maybe just some need to kill an afternoon, you could do a lot worse than basking in the "Serendipity" glow. Even if you've seen this type of film before (and you have), the power of the acting and the sugary core of the plot will be enough to make you a believer in the power of destiny.
Filmfodder Grade: B-