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Costner's 'Message': Love Made Dull and Predictable

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 12, 1999

  Movie Critic

Message in a Bottle
Robin Wright Penn and Kevin Costner navigate toward each other in "Message in a Bottle." (Warner Bros.)

Luis Mandoki
Kevin Costner;
Paul Newman;
Robin Wright Penn;
Ileana Douglas;
John Savage;
Robbie Coltrane;
Viveka Davis
Running Time:
2 hours, 6 minutes
A scene of sexuality
"Message in a Bottle," a syrupy surf-side romance replete with banal observations about living and loving, might as well be called "The Beaches of Madison County." But that would be a teensy bit unfair to "Bridges," which managed something of plot along with the pretty props, the goo-goo eyes and the precious poesy.

For Kevin Costner, producer and star, the movie is clearly an attempt to recoup his status as a romantic ideal in the wake of "Waterworld" and "The Postman." How odd then that he would take on a project primarily concerned with the sailing of ships and the posting of missives.

Costner, so taciturn as to be mistaken for mildew, is Garret Blake, a widowed boatwright who writes a love letter to his late wife, seals it in a bottle and tosses it into the Atlantic. Two years later, Theresa Osborne (Robin Wright Penn), a vulnerable divorcee on vacation, discovers the bottle on a deserted stretch of coastline.

Theresa, a researcher at the Chicago Tribune, is so moved by the earnest declaration of love that she begins a search for the author, whom she traces to a fishing village on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Posing as a tourist, she finds the sandy-haired hunk at work on a schooner, talks him into taking her for a sail and predictably falls in love with the sulky yet sensitive salt.

Though still haunted by memories of Catherine, Garret is similarly smitten with the saucy Chicagoan, and after some hesitation finally gives in to his affection. The relationship ripens further as the pair smile into the wind, walk on the beach, sip merlot by the fire, wade in the surf.

Garret has spats with his father (nimble, charming Paul Newman), who encourages the relationship, and he fusses with his late wife's family, who blame him for her death. Otherwise, there's only one source of tension: Will Garret discover that Theresa has read his sea-mail? Will their tender love survive the betrayal? Or will he go back home and mope some more?

Adapted from Nicholas Sparks's best-selling novel, the movie pokes along under the indulgent direction of Luis Mandoki ("When a Man Loves a Woman"). Basically, Mandoki's got 90 minutes of melodrama and two hours and six minutes of movie.

There's only one thing to do with this "Bottle": Put a cork in it.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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