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‘The Favor’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 29, 1994

"The Favor," a pleasant piece of fluff, is about the uncontrollable passion that rages within Kathy Whiting (Harley Jane Kozak) when she gets to thinking about Tommy, an old flame from high school. Satisfied -- but unpassionately so -- with her marriage to mathematics professor Peter (Bill Pullman), Kathy has her inner fire stoked at the prospect of an upcoming, 15-year high school reunion.

Suddenly she's plagued with steamy dreams. There's Tommy (Ken Wahl), solid and studly, his arms outstretched. But as soon as their embrace turns into something hotter, Kathy is awakened by her nagging 4-year-old daughter.

Life in the slow lane.

Faithful to a fault, Kathy decides to douse these impulses by dispatching single friend Emily (Elizabeth McGovern) to Denver, where Tommy lives. If Emily scores with him, Kathy figures, she'll get her thrills guilt-free. Unfortunately, Emily, who's on the outs with 26-year-old artist Elliott (Brad Pitt), takes that ball and runs with it. When she returns from Denver she's panting and starry-eyed.

"This one's a man," she tells an appalled Kathy. "Capital M-A-N."

Kathy, naturally, loses her mind. "The Favor," directed by Donald Petrie ("Mystic Pizza"), escalates into giddily diverting farce, with Kathy, Emily, Peter (suddenly suspicious about his wife), Elliott and Tommy crisscrossing paths all the way to a final resolution.

There isn't much to this modestly budgeted affair, scripted by Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon. But Petrie's direction is bright and the performers are uniformly appealing. Kozak is particularly engaging as a good-hearted wife trying to contain an emotional meltdown. McGovern is understatedly sexy -- as is Pitt, with his boy-toy, goofy quality. Perhaps the nicest surprise comes from Pullman, an underrated performer who adds amusing wrinkles to a potentially shopworn role, with a love for hot harmonica licks. Inside this quiet husband -- as his wife is soon to find out -- is a devil just rarin' to let loose.

"The Favor" is rated R and contains profanity and sexual situations, as well as a little Valium-popping.

Copyright The Washington Post

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