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‘The Marrying Man’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 05, 1991

If "The Marrying Man" hooks you, thank Neil Simon. He proves again that 1) he can crank it out forever and 2) a comedy's a comedy, even if McNeil and Lehrer are topping the bill.

Well, McNeil and Lehrer aren't topping the bill. It's Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. He's an idle rich kid. She's a singer. He's about to get married (to a producer's daughter). She's about to get dumped (by a gangster). When Baldwin sees her vamping up Cole Porter's "Let's Do It," his wedding plans crumble.

"You don't think that girl is beautiful?" he tells Paul Reiser and his other stag party buddies.

Actually, no. But that's the beautiful thing about love, isn't it, Alec? You love her spasmodic motions, her lousy singing voice and her pathetic attempts to look sexy.

"Her phrasing is good," offers Reiser.

No it isn't. But it doesn't stop her performing a host of other songs in this movie. What is good in "Man" are Simon's gags, his situations. The writer behind such well-known comedies as "The Odd Couple" and "Brighton Beach Memoirs" sets about his usual task with industrial effectiveness. He also tackles his favorite subject: The man-woman thing. In this wife-mistress screwball romance, Baldwin careens between betrothed Elisabeth Shue (the producer's daughter) and Basinger (the hot one).

"Do you still want her?" Shue asks Baldwin, after his infidelity has come to light.

"A little," says Baldwin. "But it'll go away."

Later, he'll be telling Basinger that his "crazy feeling" for her has gone away "a little, but it'll come back."

Jerry Rees's direction is straight-ahead: In a Neil Simon comedy, you don't jump in, you just try to keep out of the way. He coaxes some good readings from Armand Assante (as the gangster), as well as Robert Loggia (the producer), a man who never met a line he couldn't bark the hell out of.

"He's dead!" Loggia screams when Baldwin has broken his daughter's heart. "The man is dead! I'll get a picture of him dead and I'll pin him on the wall and you can throw darts at him!"

The best performance comes from Reiser who, as Baldwin's main buddy and a witty screenwriter, obviously speaks directly for Simon. One of his favorite statements -- as Baldwin and Basinger marry and remarry one another, bump and rebump into each other -- is "What are the odds of that happening?"

In a Neil Simon comedy, they're always good.

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