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Bullock and Affleck flood the screen with chemistry

Forces of Nature
Starring: Ben Affleck, Sandra Bullock, Maura Tierney, Steve Zahn, Meredith Scott Lynn, Ronny Cox, Blythe Danner, and David Strickland
Screenplay: Marc Lawrence
Producers: Susan Arnold, Ian Bryce, and Donna Roth
Director: Bronwen Hughes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual overtones

One of my favorite comedies of all time is the Steve Martin/John Candy film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. As a kid, I watched it repeatedly, laughing hysterically at the problems the two main characters go through. This is not to say that Forces of Nature rips off of that film--it is wholly original in its own right. However, there are some similarities that are almost overwhelming in their likeness. Thankfully, Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck infuse the film with their natural charm, and instead of coming off as an unoriginal romantic comedy, we get an unsentimental look at how two people fall in love.

As surprised as I was, the film plays around with the conventions of the genre, toying with the audience's emotions, and then pulling the rug out from underneath us. It's a very unpredictable film which leads up to a conclusion that some will find disappointing and some will find perfect. Whatever the outcome, the film makes sure the viewers are entertained, and it succeeds with flying colors. Certainly it's not a perfect piece of filmmaking, but in a time when romantic comedies are aiming at the pre-teen audience, it's nice to have a motion picture that caters to the adults in the crowd.

Forces of Nature begins with Ben (Ben Affleck), a conservative, about-to-be-married young man who speaks out about his fear of flying but won't admit that he's afraid of getting married. Ben is engaged to Bridget (Maura Tierney), a loving and caring woman who brings more than enough anxiety into the relationship for both of them. The wedding is in two days, and Ben needs to fly from New York to Savannah, Georgia. On the plane, he meets Sarah (Sandra Bullock), a rebellious and free-spirited woman who thinks marriage is too binding. Fate intervenes--or rather, Mother Nature intervenes, as a bird gets sucked into the engine of the plane, causing the engines to fail.

Ben aids Sarah off the plane after unwittingly knocking her unconscious, where he tells his fiancee that he will be driving down to Savannah. "I was afraid to fly before the plane crash, now... nothin' doing." The plot moves along like this for the rest of the film--Sarah and Ben continuously get into accidents, yet struggle to get to their destination. Spoiling any of the plot would ruin many of the surprises the film contains.

Forces of Nature works on so many different levels that those that don't work are hardly worth mentioning. The relationship between Ben and Bridget isn't as fully developed as it probably should have been, but thanks to actress Maura Tierney, we do care about what happens to the marriage. While Ben begins falling in love with Sarah, Bridget is being courted by Steve (David Strickland), an old friend who has always been in love with her. This small subplot seems more of a tacked on element than a natural occurance. And the constant bickering of Bridget and Ben's parents can get annoying (to the film's credit, their bickering is given little screen time).

But none of that really matters. Bullock and Affleck have such a natural charm that pushes the film forward, whenever the plot fails. Sandra Bullock, especially, is in peak form here, proving that she is still one of the most charismatic actresses to grace the screen this decade. No matter what film she is in, she's always a natural performer, exuding charm without even trying. Ben Affleck has a harder time here, and struggles to make his character likable. But after the first ten minutes, he finds the right note, and runs with it. Bullock and Affleck are so good together that the conclusion should be easy to spot from the first few minutes from when they meet. Thankfully, screenwriter Marc Lawrence is smarter than that, and constantly throws wrenches into the works, making us second-guess our original presumption. Will they get together, or will Ben stick with Bridget? It's one of the few surprises the film has up its sleeve that actually work.

What works even more is the amazing special effects that come and go throughout the film. In the best tradition of special effects, they enhance the story, sometimes even becoming a metaphorical background. The title 'Forces of Nature' is perfect, since the natural occurances that do inflict themselves upon these people become a plot point in themselves--whenever something bad is about to occur, the weather reflects it. The final confrontation is during a hurricane that has been brewing over the course of the movie. The use of weather is a perfect backdrop here, and never seems contrived or out of place (almost reminiscent of The Ice Storm).

Director Bronwen Hughes has a history in commercials and it shows--sometimes, commercial directors are the most visually acute. Her previous film Harriet the Spy was an obnoxious work of unpleasantness, but her talent showed through the bad elements. Here, she proves her worth. Not only is Forces of Nature a good romantic-comedy, it's a beautiful one at that. The imagery is stunning to say the least, especially during one hailstorm as the camera captures (what appear to be) computerized hail drops dancing on the ground. It's computer manipulation at its best. And during the final moments of the film, the characters' dialogue mimics what is occurring around them. It's a brilliant moment in film, and one that will stick with me whenever I think of it.

Screenwriter Lawrence makes every character likable, which is an astonishing feat. The only real antagonist of the film is Mother Nature herself. His dialogue is twinged with subtleties, especially during the aforementioned final confrontation. Humorously, every time Ben seeks out for a married couple that is satisfied with their marriage, he can't find one. It's an ever-present theme that runs throughout the film. Lawrence also includes one of the most memorable strip-dancing scenes in a long time--it's better than anything you'd see in Showgirls.

Forces of Nature is rated PG-13 for language and sexual overtones. In a time when comedies are a dime a dozen, it's good to find one that actually has enough intelligence to restrain itself. While it certainly isn't a perfect film, it's an entertaining one, and isn't that the main purpose of a movie? Visually beautiful, exquisitely photographer, and starring two of the most likable actors around, what is there not to like here? I ask you that. Now go, and have a good time.

***1/2 out of ****

Reviews by Boyd Petrie
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