NEW YORK — YOU know from the title that "The Marrying Man" is about marriage. What's not so clear, even after you've seen the movie, is whether the filmmakers - screenwriter Neil Simon, director Jerry Rees, and the others - consider matrimony a good idea or a very bad one.
Alec Baldwin plays the hero of the comedy: Charley Pearl, a bon vivant whose journey through life is cushioned by the millions his family has amassed in the toothpaste business. He's rich, young, handsome, and engaged to beautiful Adele, the daughter of a famous Hollywood producer.
But his nuptials are delayed by an unexpected adventure. Lured by friends into a halfhearted bachelor party, he has a tryst with a nightclub singer (Kim Basinger) whose boyfriend - the notorious Bugsy Siegel, as cruel and crazy as gangsters come - forces them into a shotgun wedding.
The marriage fails instantly - neither party wanted it, after all - but Charley and Vicki can't forget each other.
Charley bounces between Vicki and Adele for the rest of the picture, while Vicki bounces between Charley and the movie-star career she's always wanted. Adele bounces between both of them and her father, who grows steadily more wrathful over Charley's vacillations, threatening to become as dangerous as Bugsy Siegel if things don't straighten out.
Much of "The Marrying Man" rehashes one of Mr. Simon's most memorable film comedies, "The Heartbreak Kid," wherein Charles Grodin marries Jeannie Berlin but falls in love with Cybill Shepherd on their honeymoon. The new movie is less intense and more strung out, however, relying on the repetition of predicaments and situations, (and repetitions of repetitions) for much of its humor.
What promises to be a freewheeling and sophisticated farce eventually bogs down in the limitations of its too-few comic ideas. And when the plot appears to have run out of steam altogether, with Charley and Vicki evidently glued to each other at last, Simon takes a deep breath and shoves them into several more wildly superfluous scenes. Even if you've enjoyed the movie so far, you're likely to be pleading for mercy by this time.
As for the picture's attitude toward marriage, it turns out to be as vague as Charley's commitment to his alternating fianc 142&gt;es.
The movie suggests that passion is more important than common sense when choosing a mate but that all kinds of consistency fly out the window when romance is in the air.
These messages aren't clever or original, and the filmmakers spend far too much time dallying with them.
"The Marrying Man" has a few assets. The key performances are likable, and Kim Basinger has a lot of sultry charm in her nightclub numbers, although it's hard to tell if Marilyn Monroe or Jessica Rabbit is her main inspiration.
Sweet saxophone sounds by Stan Getz punctuate the sound track now and then. And it was a wonderful idea for cinematographer Donald E. Thorin to shoot this tale of the '40s and '50s in the saturated colors of genuine '40s and '50s musicals.
In all, "The Marrying Man" is more stylish than substantial - too flimsy to stand as a major comedy, too unwieldy for Mr. Rees to consider it a successful follow-up to "The Brave Little Toaster," the marvelous feature-length cartoon that established him as an unusually promising talent.
The movie is rated R, reflecting some vulgar language and an intermittently sensual atmosphere.