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‘The Night We Never Met’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 03, 1993

"The Night We Never Met" is an entirely middle-of-the-road experience that gives rise to entirely middle-of-the-road feelings. There are some lovely moments in it and some not-so-lovely moments. There are some charming, nicely modulated performances (in particular from Annabella Sciorra and a sizable number of supporting players), some that are competent but rather unremarkable (like the one turned in by Matthew Broderick), and some that are screechy and overscaled (most notably from Kevin Anderson, Justine Bateman and Jeanne Tripplehorn). In other words, it's a mixed bag, and not particularly well-mixed, either.

The story line is plagued by the same bumpy unevenness. Warren Leight, who directs his own screenplay here, contrives a plot around an apartment sublet and a case of mistaken identity. A frat jerk named Brian (Anderson) is about to be married to a prissy yuppie princess (Bateman), but to guarantee that he and his pals have a clubhouse to trash on their boys' nights out, he arranges a deal to hold on to his "Lion's Den," the Greenwich village apartment that in more footloose days served as his bachelor pad.

To accomplish this, Brian time-shares the place a couple days a week with a frustrated suburban wife and dental assistant named Ellen (Sciorra), and on alternating days with Sam (Broderick), a Dean & Deluca employee and unportfolioed master chef. (If you've ever lived in New York, you're not in the least surprised by the insanity of the arrangement.) The three cohabitants never meet, but they do have to clean up after each other and endure one another's decorating tastes.

For Ellen and Sam, this is no big deal. When Ellen, who uses her sublet time to paint, decides to plant a couple of basil plants, Sam (unsolicited) builds a nice wooden window box for them. She likes Sam's taste in music and furniture; he likes her paintings and he even leaves her little samples of his fabulous meals. They also have in common a powerful dislike for Brian, who stubs out his cigarettes in the planter, and leaves the place strewn with empty beer cans and the sink full of dirty dishes.

Unfortunately, there's a slight mix-up. Ellen thinks that Sam is Brian, and so, because the two of them seem to have so much in common, she makes special preparations for a secret seduction -- only she winds up with the wrong man. It's a classic light romantic comedy setup, but Leight can't seem to decide how he wants to play it. In Sciorra's scenes, his style is sensitive and measured and human, yet in others it seems unnecessarily broad and sitcomic. Sometimes, he plays his characters' situations for cheap laughs -- such as when Sam hooks up with a Norwegian beauty named Inga (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) or when Ellen's dry-cleaner husband (Mike Mantell) takes a mini-TV to a foreign film so he can watch the game.

And yet folded in with these dull patches are other scenes that show a much surer and more delicate sense of touch and proportion. Aside from Sciorra, who has already distinguished herself as a formidable, life-size performer, Leight does an impressive job with actors with smaller roles, like Brooke Smith (the girl from the bottom of the well in "The Silence of the Lambs") as Sam's blind date Catha, a persnickety head case, and Ranjit Chowdhry as an Indian cabdriver who calms Ellen down after her failed tryst.

Then there's the inexplicably cartoonish performance by Tripplehorn, who as Sam's French ex-girlfriend Pastel comes across as a lost Gabor sister. As for Broderick, he does everything "right" without ever doing anything distinguished or surprising. He's too bland a presence, likable and all, but all too forgettable.

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