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Marriage as a legal-tender trap

Published Sep. 30, 2005

Dyed-in-the-wool bachelor must marry immediately to gain financial windfall. It's still a cute plot idea, until it is carried out with ham-handed heaviness by The Bachelor.

The Bachelor opens with a shot of Mustangs _ horses, not cars _ running wild along a western plain. It's intended as a metaphor for the lead character's restless spirit, and his fear of getting "roped in" to marriage when he wants to run free.

It might actually work as a metaphor, too, if the filmmakers didn't continue beating that notion into your brain throughout the movie. But they give us numerous shots of protagonist Jimmie Shannon (Chris O'Donnell) running with the horses, his friends getting lassoed when they get hitched, and Jimmie himself saying "I'm a Mustang; I need to run free," just in case you still don't get it.

That's not a metaphor. In fact, I don't know what the heck that is. Just stupid.

The film is supposed to be a breezy little date movie, based on the 1925 Buster Keaton classic Seven Chances, about a staunch bachelor who has to get married within 24 hours in order to collect a large inheritance.

Sounds easy enough: Give us some some likable characters, some cute scenes, a little romance and a few laughs, and we'll leave the theater satisfied.

But The Bachelor doesn't begin to measure up to even those slight expectations. It's paper-thin, excruciatingly predictable, with a humor level directed at grammar-school mentality _ which chafes against the numerous mild profanities tossed in to kick the rating up to an adult-seeming PG-13.

In fact, the only cute touches in Steve Cohen's lame script are those lifted directly from the Keaton film (written by Clyde Bruckman and Jean C. Havez), such as an army of wannabe brides chasing an unwilling groom. Keaton starred in and directed that classic, which leaves Bachelor director Gary Sinyor and star O'Donnell looking pretty weak by comparison.

O'Donnell's square jaw and clear complexion get plenty of screen time, but not for a second is he believable as a guy with a playboy past. Even at 29, he still comes off as a schoolboy playing a man, and while he gives it an earnest shot, the results are laughable. When Jimmie visits an array of former flames hoping to win a bride, you half expect each one to pinch his widdle cheeks and send him off with a Tootsie Roll. Mini-Me would be a more believable romantic lead.

Renee Zellweger plays Anne, Jimmie's girlfriend, who turns down his intentionally self-sabotaged proposal early in the film. Her casting is intended to bring to mind Jerry Maguire, where, through Cameron Crowe's masterful writing and direction, Zellweger's quirkiness managed to be cute. Here, it's neither.

It says a lot about The Bachelor, which foils the efforts of even old pros Edward Asner and Hal Holbrook, that the few mildly enjoyable moments come from its many cameos. Comedian Sarah Silverman and even pop singer Mariah Carey are solid in brief bits, and Brooke Shields is actually rather funny doing a turn as a dragon lady.

It's a bad sign for any movie when one of the better performances comes from one of television's lamest sitcom stars. Even as it heads for its painfully certain conclusion, one hopes against hope The Bachelor never makes it to the altar. That way, just maybe, there might not be offspring.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Bachelor

Grade: D

Director: Gary Sinyor

Cast: Chris O'Donnell, Renee Zellweger, Artie Lange, Edward Asner, Hal Holbrook, Marley Shelton, James Cromwell

Screenplay: Steve Cohen

Rating: PG-13: profanity

Running time: 102 min.