Ryan, Kline charm in 'French Kiss'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Meg Ryan seems to play the same role in almost all her movies, the girl-next-door who finds unexpected love, but her fans don't seem to mind if the chemistry works. And it works, really works, in the charming romantic comedy "French Kiss."

Breezier than "When Harry Met Sally . . . " and a lot sassier than the saccharine "Sleepless in Seattle," prime examples of the Meg Ryan subgenre, "French Kiss" sustains a light touch and still manages to be touching.

Aglow with energy, Ryan gives her character both innocence and brains. She plays an American, Kate, who's trying to become a Canadian in order to build the perfect life with her fiance (Timothy Hutton). Fearing she's lost him to a pouty Frenchwoman (Susan Anbeh) while he's in Paris on a business trip, Kate jumps on a plane to France. During her pre-flight panic, she meets Luc (Kevin Kline), a scruffy Frenchman with shady motives. As they -- about France, we learn as much about them as they learn about each other.

Director Lawrence Kasdan, who made his reputation with weightier material -- "The Big Chill," "Body Heat" and "Grand Canyon" -- makes this comedy sparkle. Where his "I Love You to Death" almost killed itself, "French Kiss" is nothing if not lively. A winning performance by longtime Kasdan collaborator Kline is one of the reasons why.

Even when they are at their most childish, the characters in "French Kiss" seem like grown-ups. Their depth gives the laughter its lift. While Ryan is radiant, Kline is brusque and endearingly confused. He's also a convincing Frenchman. His character, Luc -- a hapless thief who merely wants to re-enter the family business, winemaking -- could have been absurd. Kline makes him rough-edged, funny and, almost as an afterthought, surprisingly romantic.

The secondary characters are memorable, too, especially Francois Cluzet ("Round Midnight") as a bumbling petty thief and Jean Reno ("The Professional," "La Femme Nikita") as the good-natured cop who's friends with Luc, the man he's supposed to arrest.

If you saw "Only You," "French Kiss" might seem a little familiar at first. "Only You" had Marisa Tomei --ing off to Italy on a moment's notice to pursue the man she thought was her destiny. Instead, an unlikely love takes her by surprise. The difference is that "French Kiss" has a realistic edge that makes it all the more enjoyable. (Not too realistic, mind you; this is a romantic comedy.)

The fun and flirtatious story is enhanced by its dreamy setting. Paris is both busy and lovely, and the sunny south of France looks delicious. If you can't afford the plane ticket, or if your soul mate isn't available to -- off to Europe with you, this entrancing bit of escapism may be the kiss you need.

"French Kiss"

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Starring Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13 (sexual situations)

***

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