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‘Chances Are’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 10, 1989


Emile Ardolino
Cybill Shepherd;
Robert Downey Jr.;
Ryan O'Neal;
Mary Stuart Masterson;
Christopher McDonald;
Josef Sommer
Parental guidance suggested

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If there's an official checklist for heavenly movies, Tri-Star Pictures surely must have circulated it before it released "Chances Are."

Storybook couple? Check. Reporter Christopher McDonald (Louie) and museum curator Cybill Shepherd (Corinne) live during JFK's "Camelot" days in Washington. They're dream lovers (fogged film courtesy of cinematographer William "Heaven Can Wait" Fraker). Untimely death? Check. McDonald gets hit by car (never jaywalk at Wisconsin and M). Appeal to heavenly bureaucrats? Check. McDonald demands return engagement with Shepherd. New ID? Check. McDonald becomes Robert Downey Jr., as bureaucrats allow McDonald's spirit to enter baby boy in Ohio (interesting that McDonald chooses this over, say, purgatory). Plenty of "heavenly" dry ice on hand? Check.

Coincidental reunion? Check. Downey graduates from Princeton 22 years later, wants to work in The Washington Post newsroom -- or a West Coast sound studio just like it. Busting down "Executive Editor Ben Bradlee's" door, he meets vet "reporter" Ryan O'Neal, who just happens to be Shepherd's Georgetown housemate and her platonic admirer all these years. (Ryan O'Neal, platonic. It's definitely a movie.) Meanwhile Downey has struck up a thing with Shepherd's daughter, Mary Stuart Masterson, which would make Masterson his, well -- see "Back to the Future" for details . . .

We interrupt this inventory to point out "Chances' " good parts. Lead Downey acts blissfully unaware of screenwriters Randy and Perry Howze's celestial shortcomings (they also served us "Maid to Order" and "Mystic Pizza"). As the kid with a bad case of de'ja` vu, he puts perky, romantic conviction into an otherwise wispy role. And Shepherd comes through with the same goofy-sexy sensibility that lights up "Moonlighting," although the role is unfortunately more romantic than antic.

For director Emile ("Dirty Dancing") Ardolino, this is obviously no affair of his heart, but he pumps this It's-a-Blunderful-Life as full of Downey's collegiate vigor as he can. Masterson imbues a small role with appropriate dewy-eyed innocence, and Fran Ryan has an amusing turn on the dance floor as Mavis Talmadge, a Washington arts patron who briefly loses her head (and wig) over Downey.

O'Neal's performance, on the other hand, could incite angels to throw tomatoes from heaven. As the meek-and-noble reporter (who never seems to find time to file stories), he seems to be a confused Barry Lyndon, inexplicably whisked into this century and given a Georgetown lease, a ridiculous movie role and a byline. You get the feeling that, like this movie, his news stories need editing.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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