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`I Love Trouble'

`I Love Trouble'

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Film: "I Love Trouble"

Stars: Julia Roberts, Nick Nolte and Saul Rubinek

Theaters: Annex, Eton Square and Cinema 8 (Broken Arrow,

Sand Springs)

Rating: PG (language, violence)

Quality: ONE 1/2 STARS (on a scale of zero to four stars)

"I Love Trouble" aims for the kind of breezy repartee

and gruff romanticism that distinguished the old newspaper

screwball comedies of the 1930s and '40s.

It wants you to recall vintage flicks like "It Happened

One Night" and "His Girl Friday," in which a cynical

old newshound and a brash young sophisticate bickered and

brawled and fell in love while in pursuit of the Big Story.

The Big Story, in this case, seems to be something borrowed

from Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest."

But director Charles Shyer and his producer and co-writer

wife Nancy Meyers simply aren't up to the task of replicating

the classic sparkle of Frank Capra and Howard Hawks, or

the romantic intrigues of Hitchcock.

Instead, they come closer to copying "Teacher's Pet,"

a lukewarm quasi-screwball of the '50s that had Clark Gable

as a rough, old-school newspaperman clashing with prim and

principled journalism teacher Doris Day. That, with a dash

of Hitchcock filtered through TV's "Hart to Hart."

That's the main trouble with this latest Shyer-Myers collaboration

(they did "Private Benjamin," "Baby Boom" and the recent

remake of "Father of the Bride"). Their work has a derivative,

piecework quality that shows its origins.

In this case, their attempt to blend worldly romantic comedy

with murder-suspense produces a hybrid, uninspired tale

that's not likely to stop any presses.

Set in the dog-eat-dog world of Chicago newspaper journalism,

"I Love Trouble" gives us Nick Nolte as veteran Chronicle

columnist Peter Brackett, a self-satisfied cad who's more

interested in skirt-chasing than scoop-chasing. These days,

he spends more time promoting his new novel than reporting

the news.

It's only when Brackett crosses paths with Julia Roberts'

efficient, hard-driving Sabrina Peterson, an ambitious cub

reporter for the rival Globe, that Brackett's news instincts

are rekindled.

The two meet when they're both assigned to cover the same

train wreck. Brackett tries to put the moves on the lissome

Sabrina. She gives him a brusque brush-off and takes off

after the story. The smug, cynical Brackett is soon hot

after a scoop as well.

As it turns out, there's more to the story than meets the

eye, and soon Sabrina and Brackett find themselves dealing

with trench-coated hitmen and all sorts of unsavory characters

as their investigative reporting turns deadly.

Roberts and Nolte have a long roster of models to draw upon

in playing out this May-September romance - from Claudette

Colbert and Clark Gable, to Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant,

to Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

But the running badinage of Roberts and Nolte lacks the

tartness and bite that made those classic couplings and

the old screwballs crackle with contentious wit. In fact,

there's sort of a dreary plainness to many of their exchanges,

as when Sabrina puts Brackett down and he responds by asking

if she comes from "Bitchville."

Shyer and Myers seem so intent on building up this cute

romance that they fail to pay attention to another key element

of the genre - brisk pacing. With a plot that takes the

deadline-duo on a chase from Chicago to rural Wisconsin

to Las Vegas and back, the story simply plods along between

zippy exchanges between the stars. (At just over two hours,

the film is easily 30 minutes too long.)

Roberts is as lovely and radiant as ever, but even this

thin material demonstrates her woefully limited range as

an actress. The estimable, crusty Nolte has to carry Roberts

along and he often seems more paternal than romantic in

the presence of his fresh young co-star. (Again, this dynamic

calls to mind the Gable-Day pairing in "Teacher's Pet.")

In the end, this movie falls short both as a screwball homage

and as a tension-filled thriller. It's simply too unfocused

and short on sharp wit. For a movie that attempts to traffic

in the hard-nosed lore of big-city reporting, "I Love Trouble"

is - in newspaper parlance - nothing more than a puff piece.

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