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‘Speechless’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 16, 1994

In "Speechless," Geena Davis hacks out political speeches for a Democratic senatorial candidate while Michael Keaton composes sound bites for the Republican opponent. She's a tax-and-spender who cares about illegal aliens, he's a supply-sider who used to write TV sitcoms.

Apparently this dead-air romance, directed by Ron ("City Slickers") Underwood, was concocted before the 1992 campaign affair between Clinton handler James Carville and Bush spinner Mary Matalin. But that's between scriptwriter Robert King and his god. It hardly matters: The movie's a campaign disaster from the get-go, and no amount of damage control (including MGM's extensive publicity) can hide it.

When a Senate seat becomes vacant in New Mexico, Davis and Keaton find themselves holed up -- elbow to elbow -- at a desert hotel, frantically trying to create newsworthy hype for their candidates. (I ask you: Would you hire either of these people for a Senate campaign?) Insomniacs both, Our Romantic Speechwriters meet while making a grab for the local pharmacy's last available box of sleeping pills.

Unaware that they share the same profession and under the collective delusion they're in a smart, sexy comedy, Davis and Keaton begin an affair full of cheesy convention. We're talking "La Dolce Vita"-style splashing in the hotel fountain. We're talking cramped lovemaking in Davis's sports car during which -- quick, clutch your sides -- the hand brake is accidentally released and the windshield wipers turned on. The cliches continue. When the lovebirds find out the truth about each other, affection turns to hardball rivalry, sarcasm and more insomnia. And in screenwriter King's incompetent aping of 1930s screwball comedy, the couple's future is threatened by Christopher Reeve, a self-obsessed (and obviously unsuitable) network reporter -- engaged to Davis.

It's hard to believe Davis dreamed up this vanity project, which she produced with hubby Renny Harlin. She's completely unappealing. As the wide-eyed, tree-hugging idealist, her one-dimensional liberal character ought to be strung up from the highest branches. Keaton should swing next to her, with his woeful, chipmunk-like attempts to personalize his "Republican" persona. The ultimate low occurs in a goodwill classroom visit when Davis and Keaton, representing their respective candidates, realize each other's professional identities for the first time. Feeling mutually deceived by the other, they answer children's innocent questions with pointedly sarcastic -- and increasingly profane -- comments. Intended as adorable shtick, this scene merely makes them look like slimeballs who think nothing of shocking children to attack each other. Now that's cute.

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