BOSTON — Hollywood loves novelty. But what it loves even better is a known quantity that's certain to prosper at the box office, especially in the summer season, when originality takes second place to air-conditioned entertainment value. This is why multiplexes keep filling with juiced-up adventure yarns like "Deep Blue Sea" and old-fashioned romantic fables like "Runaway Bride," which positively revel in the tried-and-true formulas they recycle.
Runaway Bride recycles a savvy creative team as well, uniting Julia Roberts and Richard Gere with director Garry Marshall for the first time since "Pretty Woman" became a walloping success nine years ago. Times have changed, though, and their new story has a more conservative slant. Instead of a jaded wheeler-dealer and a fun-loving prostitute, Gere and Roberts now play a jaded journalist and a fun-loving shopkeeper who take almost two hours of screen time to discover that - you guessed it - they're made for each other.
Gere plays Ike Graham, a newspaper writer who needs a subject for his next column. He finds it when he hears about Maggie Carpenter, a hardware-store clerk who's become a small-time celebrity by ditching no fewer than three bridegrooms just as their weddings were about to start. Ike tells her story to his readers, meeting his deadline but losing his job when his editor (and former wife) doesn't like the column's tone.
Driving to her Maryland town, Ike tracks Maggie down to apologize - and meet her latest fianc, a macho mountaineer who's convinced their nuptials will come off exactly as planned. Ike isn't so sure. Nor are many of Maggie's neighbors, who pass the time gossiping about her past engagements.
The screenplay for "Runaway Bride," written by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott, has enough love-struck speeches and cute one-liners to seem intermittently fresh and clever. Most of the writing is fairly flat, though, and moviegoers won't detect the hints of real-world class and gender tension that made "Pretty Woman" marginally interesting.
But the dramatic shortcomings of "Runaway Bride" count for little against the pretested chemistry of Roberts and Gere, backed by the supporting antics of Joan Cusack and Hector Elizondo, and the comfy atmosphere of the picture's small-town setting. "Runaway Bride" will almost certainly be a runaway hit.
Deep Blue Sea takes place in an ocean-bound research facility, so it's appropriate to describe the picture with an equation: 3 great big sharks + 1 biological experiment = 3 eating machines considerably smarter than the humans they're chasing.
The heyday of movies like this was back in the 1950s, when meddling nuclear-power experts produced the giant ants of "Them!" and the giant spider of "Tarantula." Considered in this context, "Deep Blue Sea" may also spring from anxieties induced by science, reflecting present-day paranoia over genetic engineering and the overweening ambitions of biotechnical corporations.
Be that as it may, the picture reflects an overweening ambition on the part of Warner Bros. to cash in on the unkillable popularity of "Jaws," still a source of Hollywood inspiration almost 25 years after its release. "Deep Blue Sea" is less inventive and amusing than Steven Spielberg's minor classic, which also plugged into the spirit of its age, casting politicians rather than scientists as its villains. The new movie packs enough surprises to keep spectators jumping in their seats, though.
Action specialist Renny Harlin directed the movie, which features gifted character actors Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Rapaport, one promising character actor LL Cool J, and a lot of high-tech effects (fireballs and everything!). It's just the thing for moviegoers wanting violent adventure, split-second editing, and enough water-drenched cinematography to make "Titanic" look parched.
*'Runaway Bride,' rated PG, contains a little smarmy humor. 'Deep Blue Sea,' rated R, contains four-letter words and horror-movie violence.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society