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‘For Love or Money’ (PG)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 02, 1993

Likable as Michael J. Fox is, he cannot save "For Love or Money," an old-fashioned romantic comedy so slight and fluffy that you don't dare breathe too hard for fear of making the screen shiver. Delayed so as not to compete (or die) with "Life With Mikey," another Fox disaster released this summer, "For Love or Money" serves up a genial knockoff of Fox's Alex Keaton character, toning down the yuppie materialist of "Family Ties" into an ambitious hotel concierge with dreams of his own resort.

The brash but lovable Doug Ireland (Fox) works at a fancy New York hotel, where he's a well-connected fixer who fuels more trades than the nearby stock exchange. The secret of his success in this gratuity-intensive occupation is that Doug's a master at telling people what they want to hear, as well as at blocking out the minor ethical questions that arise from time to time. For instance, Doug needs someone to finance his reclamation of an abandoned hotel on the Hudson and so ends up with Hanover (Anthony Higgins), an amoral entrepreneur who uses Doug to procure a hotel room for afternoon assignations.

Imagine Doug's despair when his potential partner's paramour turns out to be Andy (Gabrielle Anwar), a perfume seller upon whom Doug has a casual crush. The situation is further complicated when the married Hanover asks Doug to mind Andy, particularly in the presence of his wife. Doug is drawn into the deception, but he's an inefficient liar and his innate honesty creates problems.

Eventually Doug must choose between realizing his lifelong ambition and doing the right thing. It's no contest, of course, and the happy, sappy ending seems borrowed from some long-forgotten '60s film. "For Love or Money" clearly envisions itself as a mannered New York comedy in the tradition of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or "The Apartment," but Barry Sonnenfeld's direction is too flat and the script full of cliches.

Sonnenfeld ("The Addams Family") does make good use of characters too interesting to be stereotypes -- notably "Picket Fences' " Fyvush Finkel as the world's oldest eccentric bellman, one with a penchant for piling guest baggage ridiculously high in hopes of making only one trip from the lobby. Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi also makes a funny impression in his acting debut as ... fashion designer Julian Russell. New York comes across as a tourist's paradise, but a number of locations -- Barneys, Henri Bendel, Laura Belle and Sandomenico -- are curiously underutilized. No romancing a la Tiffany's here.

The major problem with "For Love or Money" is its leads, since Fox is no Cary Grant and Anwar no Audrey Hepburn. Fox is sweetly engaging at times but he still seems too boyish to be convincing. And though he wheels and deals with flair, no romantic sparks fly between him and Anwar. Of course, as she proved with Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman," it takes two to tango -- and Anwar simply is too vapid an actress, a poor woman's Adrienne Shelly with a flat voice, wan looks and all too little presence.

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