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'Jerry Maguire': A Touchdown Pass

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 13, 1996

Tom Cruise is the Risky Businessman all grown up and wondering where his life went in the joyous redemptive romantic comedy "Jerry Maguire." Like so many of Cruise's best characters, Maguire begins his journey in the fast lane, but like many a frenzied yuppie, he suddenly realizes he doesn't know where he's going at such dangerous speeds.

Though originally marketed as a sports movie, this affable picture is really another variation on "A Christmas Carol," just as its cocky, charismatic hero is Scrooge with a cell phone. As a top agent with the Los Angeles-based Sports Management International, Jerry squeezes big-league bucks out of first-round draft choices drooling for sneaker endorsements.

The men and women whose talent he sells have become little more than commodities in Jerry's eyes. And while he hasn't really given it much thought -- who has time? -- his life is as empty as George Steinbrenner's heart. Then thanks to the son of an injured hockey player, Jerry receives the wake-up call. As Jerry is haranguing his client to get back on the ice pronto, the kid flips him the bird. The next day, Jerry issues an idealistic mission statement urging his firm to provide more service to fewer clients and accept lower profits. Within a week, he's first fired, then dumped by his fiancee and forced to revise, if not invent, his life. In this, he has the support of Dorothy Boyd (captivating Renee Zellweger), an accountant so inspired by his vision that she quits the firm to be with him.

A single mother with a 6-year-old son (Jonathan Lipnicki, just about the cutest thing since dimples), she also has a romantic interest in her gorgeous new boss. And Jerry is lonely, so the interest is mutual. The ensuing courtship, however, is blessedly unconventional as written and directed by Cameron Crowe of "Say Anything" and "Singles." Like his youth comedies, his new film also boasts emotional complexities that are rare in the increasingly formulaic romantic genre.

For one thing, Jerry's life -- like most people's -- isn't defined by one relationship. In addition to his evolving interest in Dorothy and her child, he's also trying to manage his only remaining client, Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.). A brassy wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, Rod pesters Jerry about the big bucks and the shoe commercials and Jerry goes to bat for him. Only this time he's determined to put his client's interests before his own.

Gooding, whose work was impressive but somber in "Boyz N the Hood," just about walks off with the movie with his ebullient grandstanding here. Like Jerry, however, he's also more than a mouthy athlete -- he's crazy in love with his fiercely devoted wife (Regina King). Bonnie Hunt adds a cynical note as the angelic Dorothy's man-wary older sister.

Cruise seems to have grown as much as Jerry, for he brings gentleness, warmth and lightheartedness to this role, qualities that we haven't seen since he played air guitar in his underpants in "Risky Business" 13 years ago. Come to think of it, we haven't seen his underpants in a while either.

Jerry Maguire is rated R for language, sex and nudity in a locker room scene.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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