No week is complete any more without another stupefying tearjerker or would-be heartwarmer from the bottomless emotional pits of Hollywood. This week it's "Voices," the wacky chronicle of a truly preposterous romance between a deaf teacher played by Army Irving and an insipid young man played by Michael Ontkean, that aspires to pick up where "Hanover Street," "A Little Romance," "The Champ," "The Promise," etc. left off.
While it fails to sustain the sublime dopiness of a "Hanover Street" or "Moment By Moment" or "Slow Dancing in the Big City," "Voices" is in there trying. Writer John Herzfeld and director Robert Markowitz are operating on some inspirational wavelength that must be coherent to them but seems like embarrassing gibberish if you're just tuning in.
Markowitz appears sufficiently attentive to actors and compositional values to direct a respectable movie, provided he stumbled onto a sensible, foolproof script. And there are fleeting indications that a comedy writer might be lurking somewhere inside the dreary matchmaker Herzfeld pretends to be.But what both conspicuously lack is judgment. They're too infatuated with their misbegotton premise to realize what a hoot it might to be to outsiders.
The setting is romantic Hoboken, where Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint once enacted a far more compelling cinematic love story. Ontkean is the straight arrow in a household of masculine ne'er-do-wells that could surface on TV some days as "The Rothmans of Hoboken."
Ontkean drives a delivery truck for his father, Alex Rocco, the impecunious, compulsively gambling proprietor of a laundry, where his father, Herbert Berghof, works as a tailor and specializes in resident ethnic grandfatherly witticisms. For excessive measure, there's Barry Miller as a kid brother Ontkean is always trying to keep out of jams.
The young hero dreams of becoming a successful pop singer. (Jimmy Webb has contributed three ballads of a banality to shame Joe Brooks.) Ontkean's strangled renditions of these tunes are evidently meant to document the delusion that Drew Rothman Will Reach the Top Someday.
While recording himself at a booth in the train station, the hero catches sight of the heroine, and it appears to be love at first sight. For some reason she disappears on that occasion, but Drew finds her again at a bus stop, learns that she's deaf and pursues a courtship that supposedly triumphs over class, parental distrust and the self-evident communication barrier-which has the practical effect of turning most of the love scenes between Ontkean and Amy Irving into clumsy monologues by the former.
Despite the physical attractiveness of the performers, this match plays like a grotesque blind date. While the young lovers are equally oblivious, their forms of oblivion are not complementary. But truly excruciating poignance emerges from one's fear that the girl doesn't comprehend what a stupid boy this ardent suitor really is.
He certainly goes out of his way to show her. When Otkean sees Irving dancing for a class of deaf kids, he concludes that she's got a great career in store, too, and sets her up to be humiliated during an audition with a local dance company. It seems so obvious that Irving cannot dance with any proficiency that Ontkean's determination to promote her begins to resemble Charles Foster Kane's obsession to make Susan Alexander an opera star.
For some reason, the filmmakers share the delusion of their hero. They must know better, because Irving is framed in ways that try to minimize her lack of genius for the dance. Evan in tight shots, she doesn't move fluidly or get more than a quarter-inch or so off the ground.
Perhaps box-office rejection will be the only cure for this hapless romantic fever. A little preventive cynicism might spare everyone a lot of grief-especially promising young actors who end up looking like laughing stocks. CAPTION: Picture, Amy Irving in "Voices"