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‘Chances Are’

By Rita Kempley
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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Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan O'Neal vie for Cybill Shepherd's affections in the chaste "Chances Are," a safe-sex, soft-focus love-after-death triangle -- a sort of "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" in a chastity belt. This uneven fable opens on the starry-eyed Washington of the '60s, when the future Murder Capital of the World was called Camelot -- a deliberate reference, say Randy and Perry Howze, the home-grown writers of this heart-and-soul-searching take on "Heaven Can Wait," "Heaven Sent," "Hello Again" and so on.

The zaftig Shepherd, who comes with her own cinematographer and luminous highlights, plays Corinne, the widowed lady-in-waiting of this postmodern Arthurian romance. Here, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder as Corinne remains faithful to her late husband for more than two decades. Though sustained by her relationships with old friend Philip (the over-the-hill O'Neal) and her daughter Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson), she still pines for Louie (Christopher McDonald), killed in a car accident on their first anniversary.

Louie, meanwhile, reaches the dry ice of limbo but is eager to get back to his pregnant wife. He cuts in line at the Bureau of Reincarnation and is immediately reborn as Alex (Downey). However, 23 years pass before he is reunited with Corinne -- his soul in the oblivious body of Miranda's new boyfriend. When Louie's memories start coming back to Alex, the strained, semihilarious high jinks begin.

Horrified upon realizing that he has nearly had an out-of-pajama experience with his daughter from a past life, Alex shuns the bewildered Miranda and begins to pursue his former wife. Philip, the schnook who has celibately adored Corinne all along, finds himself in a love contretemps with the soul of Louis, his former best friend. Ay-yi-yi. After a fundraiser at the Smithsonian and various other irrelevant incidents, the characters learn that it is better to live happily ever after than happily in the ever-after -- preferably with somebody from your own age group, as Corinne learns when a hot dog vendor takes Alex for her son.

As love interests go, Shepherd and Downey are about as hot as Ike and Mamie Eisenhower, though the apoplectic Downey does have his comedic moments. Always a standout, Masterson is pensively provocative as Miranda, something of a teen-age Kim Novak. They're a sweet ensemble, but, like "Chances Are," a little stale as directed by Emile Ardolino of the lusty "Dirty Dancing." (With a little dirt, a little dancing and Patrick Swayze's pelvis, who knows what might have been?)

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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