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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 25, 1994


Fred Schepisi
Meg Ryan;
Tim Robbins;
Stephen Fry;
Walter Mattau;
Gene Saks;
Lou Jacobi;
Joe Maher
Parental guidance suggested

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IQ,” the new romantic comedy with Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins, is disarming piffle—frothy, sweet and nearly irresistible.

The film’s premise is blessedly slight. One day in the late ’50s while Catherine (Ryan) and her fiance, James (Stephen Fry), are on their way to a meeting, their fancy sports car begins to choke and sputter. They are able to coast into a gas station, where ace auto mechanic Ed (Robbins) takes one breathless look at Catherine and resolves to make her his wife. Never mind that she is engaged, or that she is one of the leading mathematical minds in the country and he doesn’t know a slide rule from a dipstick. In an instant, he can envision it all—their home, their kids, everything.

With his future happiness mapped out in his head, all Ed has to do now is get Catherine to notice him. And when the absent-minded overachiever leaves her antique pocket watch at the station, he jumps at the opportunity to arrange a second meeting.

Up until this point, “IQ” is pretty much like most love stories involving mismatched partners. But when Ed pays a visit to Catherine’s home and the door is opened by a wild-haired old man wearing a sweat shirt and baggy pants, the movie veers off in a delightfully fantastic direction. As it turns out, he is Catherine’s uncle—Albert Einstein. Widely acknowledged to be the smartest man in the world, Einstein has been father and mother to Catherine since childhood. But though he’s proud of his niece, he worries that she isn’t getting much fun out of her life. Neither Einstein—who is brought hilariously to life by Walter Matthau—nor his gang of cronies—a cabal of eccentric geniuses played by Gene Saks, Lou Jacobi and Joe Maher—are particularly enthusiastic about James.

By contrast, Ed seems like the sort of goofy, up-for-anything kind of guy who might loosen Catherine up. But Catherine needs a man with brains, and though Ed has his own brand of intuitive smarts, he’s anything but Mensa material. As a result, Einstein and his buddies decide to play Cupid by concocting for Ed an equation that proves the possibility of space travel powered by cold fusion.

Unfortunately, their plan works too well. As soon as Ed unveils his fusion formula, the media pounce on him as an undiscovered genius; even President Eisenhower pays him a visit to announce that his formula will put America ahead of the Soviet Union in the space race. All the while, Ed and Catherine begin to circle one another other more closely, each with a look of dazed infatuation in their eyes. Though the script (by Andy Breckman and Michael Leeson) is deft and charming and sprinkled throughout with clever allusions to time, space, relativity and the laws of attraction, and Fred Schepisi directs with his usual sharpness, the real attraction here is the rapport between these two enormously appealing stars.

As performers, Ryan and Robbins have a darling affinity. Both have a talent for wistful distraction; they always seem to be responding to some conversation that took place hours, perhaps days, earlier, as if their brains were set up with a built-in tape delay. Watching them together here, you feel as if they were made for each other.

There’s not much suspense over whether or not these two finally get together, and the last section of the film isn’t as enthralling as what precedes it. But Matthau, whose German-inflected punch lines arrive by way of vaudeville, always seems to be around when the movie needs a kick to get it going again. “IQ” isn’t deep or particularly original; its main point seems to be that we need more opportunities to say “Wahooo!!” in our lives. The movie says let yourself go and follow your heart; “Wahooo!” to that.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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