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'Jerry Maguire' Comes On Strong

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 13, 1996

The word on "Jerry Maguire," at least from this corner, is good…real good, in fact. But there's a qualifier. The movie, like its effervescent star Tom Cruise, starts out at a cracking pace. For the first hour, producer-writer-director Cameron Crowe's finely tuned comedy purrs with energy, premium one-liners and well-charged character development.

But as "Maguire" enters its second half, it can't seem to leave well enough alone. The cuteness, comedy and poignancy are revved into overdrive until the engine boils over. Where you stand on Hollywood hyperbole is going to determine how much this cloying development gets to you.

One thing remains constant, however: Cruise control. As Jerry Maguire…an obsessive, slightly insincere sports agent dealing in a world of hype, lies and other forms of negotiation…he is a human Energizer Bunny. A blur of flailing arms, raised fists, high-fives and emcee finger pointing, he seems to be powered by a nuclear dynamo. Whether you define Cruise's performance as acting or thespian calisthenics, it's an impressive spectacle.

We meet Maguire at the height of his arrogance. Working for the top-flight SMI (Sports Management International) agency, his life is devoted to 72 superstar clients, ranging from bull-necked football players to dainty gymnasts. He's always wired, always looking for the juiciest deal.

But when one of his clients, an ice hockey pro, lies injured in a hospital, and Maguire jocularly encourages him to rejoin the brutal fray, the agent suffers a momentary pang of conscience. Writing up a touchy-feely memo advocating fewer clients and less money, he impulsively circulates it among his colleagues. The Maguire manifesto, which he instantly regrets writing, causes his slimy boss, Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr), to fire him.

Now alone…which is his biggest fear…Maguire makes an energetic bid to retain all of his clients. But he loses everyone except college football star Frank "Cush" Cushman (Jerry O'Connell) and Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a jive-talking wide receiver who's more obsessed with making millions than enjoying the game. He has one other ally: The noble memorandum inspires Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), a meek accountant at SMI and a single mother, to volunteer to work with him in his fledgling agency.

When Maguire loses Cush, a valuable client, to his former agency, and splits up with his over-ambitious fiancee (Kelly Preston), he's truly deserted.

Maguire's road to Hollywood redemption is a drawn-out affair. Heading toward a relationship with Dorothy, and bonding with her precocious 6-year-old son, Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), he has to learn how to treat women right. He also has to do right by Tidwell, now his sole bread and butter.

Crowe, who also directed "Say Anything" and "Singles," overloads the movie with pseudo profundities about love, loyalty and other moral issues. He has a heavy hand when it comes to feel-good pandering too. Dorothy's protective, quippy sister (Bonnie Hunt) gets a little too wise and witty for her own good. We're hit over the head a thousand times about the passionate love between Tidwell and his hyper-devoted wife (Regina King)…and what a lesson Maguire could learn from that relationship.

As for the kid (who suggests a young Roger Ebert), he's directed to be sweet and charming at every possible opportunity. You may catch yourself muttering, If that precious tot tries warming my heart one more time...."

But Cruise is at the top of his form, and Gooding makes a brilliant opponent. Playfully challenging Cruise at every turn, he forces him to get even better. When, in a telephone conversation at the SMI office, Maguire begs Tidwell to remain his client, the black footballer, swinging to the rhythm of a rap song at home, demands a show of verbal enthusiasm.

"Show me the money!" shrieks Maguire, repeating Tidwell's specific instructions. "I love black people!" he yells again, turning scores of heads. Moments like these will bring down the house; and they give you just about enough juice to make it through the rest of the movie.

JERRY MAGUIRE (R) -- Contains profanity and shadowy nudity.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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