Forces of Nature (1999) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sensuality, language and a scene of drug use
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ben Affleck, Maura Tierney, Steve Zahn, Blythe Danner, Ronny Cox
Director: Bronwen Hughes
Screenplay: Marc Lawrence
Review published March 24, 1999

For those who can't get enough of that Out-of-Towners formula who have already seen Planes Trains and Automobiles, don't worry.  Forces of Nature is here to sate your appetite for madcap mayhem by hooking up two seemingly inseparable people who are at each other's throats while traveling.    Hey, if it worked, why fix it?  That question must have occurred to screenwriter Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality, Two-Weeks Notice) who went on to pen the screenplay for the remake of The Out-of-Towners, starring...yep, you guessed it...Steve Martin, from Planes Trains and Automobiles.

Ben Holmes (Affleck, 200 Cigarettes) is on his way to Savannah to get married to the woman he loves very much. Problems occur when he meets an odd woman on the plane just before the plane has complications and crashes before take-off. For one reason or another, they keep having to travel together in a variety of different vehicles which always ends with disastrous results. Along the way, Ben begins to question whether or not he really is going to marry the woman of his dreams or if that woman is the one riding next to him (Bullock, The Prince of Egypt).

The recurring theme of Forces of Nature deals with the "leap of faith" that is involved when two people get married.  Even when one thinks they have found the perfect mate, they never really know for sure. There's always a voice in the back of their head saying, "What if I end up like the guy next to me who was screwed over by his wife? Or like my separated parents? What makes my relationship any different than anybody else's?".

This makes for an interesting premise, and the theme is thoughtfully presented by the insightful script which is winningly played out by the two leads. However, it's a bit of a shame that director Hughes saw this light comedy as a playground for showing off her directorial skills, content on exploring the techniques of cinema rather than concentrating on the characters and their stories. Forces of Nature looks too dark for a romantic comedy, and the gloominess in the cinematography does not punctuate the mood with the actions onscreen. Rain flows down quizzically in slow motion, wind blows everything hither-thither in ways that look unnatural. The soundtrack of the film ranges from hard edged electronica to ambient fluff, never seeming to play the right song at the right time, which leads to an awkwardness of tone during many scenes.

Still, enough entertainment value can be eked out if you can overlook the looks and sounds and concentrate on the storyline.  It's a shame too because making this film work was an easy putt, with a script this insightful and actors as naturally appealing, and all that needed to be done was let the camera roll.  Forces of Nature is a mixed bag due to over-direction, and it will reward viewers patient enough to sit through the directorial masturbation, and frustrate those who aren't.  Watch it at your own risk.   .

Qwipster's rating

1999 Vince Leo