Yesteryear's headlines become today's ho-hum hokum when teen star Patrick Dempsey recreates the tired but true adventures of the Woo Woo Kid, hero of "In the Mood." This real-life 15-year-old Romeo became a media superstar when he ran off with two older women during World War II. It was bigger than Jessica Hahn's buff back in 1944, but then was then and now is underwear-as-outerwear.
With "In the Mood," we get a heaping helping of nostalgia hepped up with argyle sweaters, swing time and wah-wah trombones. The mood all but overwhelms the front-page exploits of Ellsworth (Sonny) Wisecarver, who was abhorred by oldsters and idolized by swoony bobby-soxers across America. He was a considerate, patient lover, his paramours testified when they were all tried on morals charges. The original sensitive guy had arrived, and you could almost smell the Paco Rabanne. Wherever he went, Woo Woo was soon smeared with lip prints.
Writer-director Phil Alden Robinson, a former journalist, tells the woo-pitcher's story in this semidocumentary based on newsreels, newspaper clippings and verbatim trial transcripts. Since this truth is so much stranger than fiction, the story seems unbelievable.
Dempsey, who plays the modern-day nerd of "Can't Buy Me Love," retrofits his geekiness here as a gawky ninth-grader who can't get dates with girls his own age. His mouth agape like a Gerber baby's, he conveys a naivete' appropriate for a juvenile of the day. He's pleasant as a porch swing -- Andy Hardy with hormones. But the director's malingering pace calls for a leading man with more pizazz.
To make matters worse, Dempsey has a low-burning love interest in Talia Balsam, a TV actress who plays the 21-year-old who elopes with Sonny. Their marriage is annulled, and the broken-hearted Sonny leaves town per the judge's orders, arriving in Long Beach, where he takes up with the wife of a Marine.
Beverly D'Angelo belts out this brassy gum-popper's part, lending last-minute moxie to the poky proceedings. But by the time Sonny moves in on woman number two, it's hard to get in the mood. No thanks, manchild, we've got a headache.
In the Mood is playing at area theaters and is rated PG-13 for adult language and situations.