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'Forces of Nature' Flickers Out

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 1999

  Movie Critic

Forces of Nature
Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck play traveling companions on a challenging journey. (DreamWorks)

Bronwen Hughes
Sandra Bullock;
Ben Affleck;
Maura Tierney;
Steve Zahn;
Blythe Danner;
Ronny Cox
Running Time:
1 hour, 42 minutes
Contains sexual situations
Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck bring a sort of modest fluorescence to "Forces of Nature." But they're plugged into a romantic comedy that isn't quite sure whether to use those formulaic, energy-saving bulbs or to emblazon the movie with originality.

When you sit through enough wedding-or-bust comedies, you treasure anything that breaks even momentarily from the mold. Unfortunately, in "Forces of Nature," which was directed by Bronwen Hughes from Marc Lawrence's screenplay, there are flickerings of something promising but not nearly enough of them.

Ben (Affleck) is on his way from New York to Savannah for his wedding to Bridget (Maura Tierney). But on the runway, his plane runs afoul of some passing birds.

This is just the beginning of a long "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"-style journey, in which Ben and his newfound travel partner, Sarah (Bullock), pool their meager resources (with all the expected Do-I-Hit-Ya-or-Kiss-Ya? bickering) to get south. He's got to make the ceremony, she has to get to Florida or lose a $25,000 business deal.

Plane-less, unable to find a rental car and without money, Ben and Sarah cop a free ride with a busload of old-timers heading to Florida on one of those real estate promotions. At another point, Ben is forced to strut his stuff at a gay strip club to raise $150 to buy a used car to complete the trip.

Despite the humiliations, the transportation delays and countless bleak reports about marriage from jaded oldsters, Ben forges on, doing his best to resist the adorability of Sarah, a sort of life-affirming free spirit given to impulsive acts.

Affleck, whose personality carries his acting talents further than they'd otherwise go, has his moments – in particular, his amusing discomfort at standing before an ogling group of men urging him to drop everything.

Bullock is personable, sweet and occasionally amusing. Unfortunately, her presence isn't enough to boost the movie to another level. She's always in parenthetical competition with Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan, whose star-power wattages could open a movie based on the M-Z section of the South Dakota yellow pages.

"Forces of Nature" has a deeper message and conclusion than the usual run of romantic comedy knockoffs. It asks us to appreciate the long-term rewards (and ultimate value) of love as much as its early, exciting gratifications. Screenwriter Lawrence, a former staff writer on "Family Ties," also spends pleasurable time with older couples, so that Ben can see what love's like at the other end of life. His grandfather, for instance, confides to Ben that Grandma's resemblance to Tolstoy pretty much killed his sexual appetite.

One thing you can say: Between the foreboding comments about love and the rigors of this crazy journey, Ben's love for Bridget really gets road tested. But, at the end of this road, the sense of triumph and the tug at the heart we're supposed to feel just don't happen. Ultimately, "Forces of Nature" is more of a lull than a passionate storm.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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