It’s the season of the doppelganger at movie theaters, with cinematic twins (evil and otherwise) popping up in “Muppets Most Wanted,” “Enemy” and the forthcoming film “The Double.” The latest entry in this mini-trend is “The Face of Love,” a lightly “Vertigo”-flavored romantic melodrama about a woman (Annette Bening) who falls in love with a man (Ed Harris) who looks exactly like her dead husband.
It’s an intriguing premise, I suppose. That’s only if you can accept that an emotion as complex as love — especially one that’s been nurtured over a 30-year marriage — can be transferred from one person to another simply because of shared facial features, the way a baby bird that’s lost its mother might imprint on a human carrying a feathered sock puppet.
Hey, it happens. And in “The Face of Love,” Nikki (Bening) comes off as a loon.
Five years after the drowning death of her husband (played by Harris in flashbacks with a set of cosmetic dentures), Nikki happens upon his lookalike, Tom. Her first reaction is the normal one: Nikki initially scoffs at the notion of approaching Tom, joking to her lovestruck neighbor, Roger (Robin Williams), about her opening line: “Excuse me, sir. You happen to be a double for my dead husband. Can I buy you a drink?”
Yes, Roger agrees, that is a little creepy.
But then that’s exactly what Nikki does, more or less, breaking down in neurotic tears after she stalks Tom all the way to the college where he teaches. Why he doesn’t call the police instead of going out with her is a mystery, especially after a strange first date at Nikki’s favorite sushi bar, where the chef appears to recognize Tom. By the time Nikki tells him, “I’ve always loved you,” it’s time for Tom to bail.
You may feel the same impulse.
What could keep you going are the performances. Bening and Harris are great actors, and they fill their roles as completely as they can, given the limitations of the soggy and implausible script by Matthew McDuffie and director Arie Posin.
They’re working as hard as they can to breathe life into this thing, but the patient is dead on arrival.
PG-13. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. Contains brief drug references. 92 minutes.