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‘The Favor’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 29, 1994

Remember that scene in "Sleepless in Seattle" where Tom Hanks grumped about a "chick movie"? He might have been talking about "The Favor," which at a recent preview screening had the men fidgeting and grumbling and the women laughing and cheering. A should-be summer sleeper, "The Favor" is a frisky, frank and funny female-buddy film -- as if "Thelma and Louise" had stayed in the suburbs, making girl-talk about sex and satisfaction, married vs. single.

It starts off unpromisingly with a vamped-up erotic dream sequence that looks like an off-night on "Red Shoe Diaries." But when Kathy (Harley Jane Kozak) wakes up, she's once again a happily married suburban mom of two.

There's undeniable comfort and affection in her 10-year marriage to Peter Whiting (Bill Pullman), but their sex life has become domesticated, a cozy but numb series of sleepily postponed passes: "I thought you wanted to . . . We can do it tomorrow -- no, we've got Gina's birthday party . . . let's shoot for Tuesday."

Meanwhile, Kozak's best friend Emily (Elizabeth McGovern), a single, successful gallery owner, is growing dissatisfied, too. She's shacked up with a younger man (Brad Pitt), a chiseled-looking artist, but wearying of the joys of unattached sex. Each woman thinks she wants what her friend has.

An invitation to her 15th high school reunion gets Kozak wondering what became of the steady who got away -- she was saving it for marriage, and now she simmers in romance-novel fantasies about her football player boyfriend, getting more and more distracted, until she hears McGovern is visiting her old flame's Denver hometown.

So Kozak begs her friend for a "simple favor" -- she has to look him up and report back. But the next day, Kozak decides McGovern has to sleep with him -- otherwise she'd never know what she missed.

McGovern returns with a glowing report. Too glowing. The guy grew up to be Ken Wahl, owns a sporting goods store and is a fabulous lover. Of course, the hot fling sabotages Kozak's friendship and her marriage, and "The Favor" disintegrates into routine farce. But despite the silly premise, it's never pandering or crass, thanks to director Donald Petrie, who once again displays the fresh, realistic touch he delivered in "Mystic Pizza."

"The Favor" was written by best friends and collaborators Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott, and based on an autobiographical incident, which accounts for some of the sassily authentic dialogue. Kozak, who brings to mind a '90s Elizabeth Montgomery, and McGovern, no longer the pouty ingenue, make an adorable and convincing pair of pals. Fit Pitt and brick Wahl provide plenty of scenic diversion, and Pullman, who is making a career out of regular-guy roles, is goofily endearing as Kathy's loving but clueless husband.

"The Favor" was one of the pictures orphaned when Orion went bust, and it's been sitting around since 1991. Saddled with an insipid title and a cheesy advertising scheme, it's been dumped on the market this summer in an attempt to empty the shelves. It deserves better.

Copyright The Washington Post

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