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‘Flesh and Bone’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 08, 1993


Steve Kloves
Dennis Quaid;
Meg Ryan;
James Caan;
Gweneth Paltrow;
Scott Wilson;
Christopher Rydell
sexual situations, nudity and violence

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An ill-considered marriage of Greek tragedy and Hollywood romance, "Flesh and Bone" simply never tops its masterfully staged prologue, which depicts the protagonist's role in a multiple murder 25 years earlier. A seemingly lost little boy -- actually a shill for his thieving father (James Caan) -- is taken in by a kindhearted Texas couple, stuffed full of fried chicken and put to bed with their kids. After midnight, the boy opens the door for Caan, who plans only to steal the silver but winds up killing everybody in the family but the baby.

In a twist that went out with Sophocles, the boy, Arlis (Dennis Quaid), and the baby, Kay (Meg Ryan), meet again years later and gradually fall in love. It's not surprising, given his heinous past, that Arlis has developed haunted eyes and an emotional detachment. A handsome husk with a string of vending machines, Arlis travels from town to town ministering to his equipment and his various women.

In constantly restocking the Cheez-its, Kools and Trojans, he is doubtless engaged in a subconscious attempt to fill up his vacant heart. Indeed he is somewhat prophetically in the act of refilling a roadhouse condom machine when Kay enters his life again. She is quite literally the drunken filling in a bachelor party cake, from which she jumps more or less into his reluctant arms.

The scene, which compares favorably with some in writer-director Steve Kloves's directorial debut, "The Fabulous Baker Boys," is as cute as the actress who plays it. Of course, cute doesn't quite feel right given the story's violent origins and the subsequent reappearance of Arlis's chop-lickin' father. Just when we had started to relax and let opposites attract.

Quaid and Ryan, husband and wife in real life, make an engaging screen couple, but she doesn't really inhabit the film the way he does. In fact, she seems to think she's still in "Sleepless in Seattle." Call it marital miscasting.

Quaid, who hasn't played opposite his wife since the aptly titled "D.O.A.," probably would have been better off partnered with Gwyneth Paltrow, a sensational newcomer who walks away with the movie in a nonessential role. Paltrow, the daughter of Blythe Danner, is really something of an addendum as a punky young grifter apprenticed to Caan's chilling con man. It'll be nice for her resume.

Kloves has taken us on one more ride down this same old Texas highway, with its cheap motels and gloomy cowboys. Ain't much more to it than that.

"Flesh and Bone" is rated R for sexual situations, nudity and violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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