"Kiss Me Goodbye," opening today at area theaters, might as well be kissed off by the public. Jeff Bridges is the only tangible asset in this romantic comedy nominally built around Sally Field and fabricated from cloddish reworkings of "Blithe Spirit" and "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands."
The curious thing about Bridges' cheerful dominance of this expendable trifle is that it comes in what one is accustomed to thinking of as the odd-man-out role of the heroine's new suitor, who usually finds himself at a terrible disadvantage when her estranged husband and/or lover presumes to stir up the old embers.
Ralph Bellamy put a distinctive nice-loser's stamp on this role in "The Awful Truth" and "His Girl Friday," where Cary Grant inevitably reinsinuated himself in the romantic esteem of Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell. In fact, the outclassed new suitor is sometimes spoken of generically as The Ralph Bellamy Role. "Kiss Me Goodbye" is thrown out of traditional kilter by the fact that Bridges is vastly more personable and amusing than James Caan as the ghostly husband, Jolly Villano, who's supposed to disrupt the impending remarriage of his widow, Kay (Sally Field), by popping out of the ether to reawaken her original ardor and devotion.
Somewhere along the line the filmmakers, director Robert Mulligan and screenwriter Charlie Peters, must have realized that the plot devices they were borrowing wouldn't make sense of the personality triangle the costars seemed to embody, but they haven't squirmed out of this little dilemma with anything resembling cleverness. It really won't do to invoke a source like "Blithe Spirit" when Bridges keeps racking up all the points in competition with his invisible rival, supposedly a debonair cad of a Broadway choreographer, although his very name seems ill-suited to irresistible romantic suggestion. The pretext of Jolly's magnetism becomes even flimsier when the role turns out to be a smirky sleepwalk entrusted to James Caan.
In a similar respect, it won't do to invoke "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" when the heroine's new suitor seems so much more robust and potent than her dear departed. The whole point of the Brazilian comedy was that the heroine contrived an imaginary me'nage a trois that permitted her the best of both worlds--comforting domesticity with her stable, dependable second husband enlivened by ecstatic carnality with her late, disreputable, sexually exciting first husband. After toying with an adaptation of this erotic joke, "Kiss Me Goodbye" is forced to beat a shamefaced retreat, admitting that it never took any serious humorous interest in the heroine's psyche to begin with and that her ghostly husband is, well, an impotent ghost anyway.
Ostensibly handicapped by his character's conventionally twerpy name (Rupert) and profession (Egyptologist), Bridges seems to act the rest of the cast off the screen. Indeed, he appears to be acting in a different universe from the oafishly frazzled, open-mouthed, finger-nibbling Field and the merely loitering Caan. At Bridges' level an actor can have a playfully swell time with his role while maintaining psychological integrity and credibility. He's got the other two leads at such a disadvantage on this score that even an unspeakably stupid sequence calculated to make Rupert look like a schnook -- Jolly strolling into the bedroom to interrupt Kay and Rupert at foreplay -- boomerangs to his advantage; the only believable reactions being projected are Bridges' exasperation and sarcasm when confronted with such an inexplicably distracted, rattled sex partner.
Sally Field probably thought of "Kiss Me Goodbye" as an enjoyable return to comedy, but the results suggest that since winning an Oscar, she's become addicted to dumb-cluck roles -- "Back Roads" and "Absence of Malice" being two strikes against her before this fresh embarrassment.