'Forget Paris' showcases one-liners and NBA stars

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Love in Paris. NBA basketball in Phoenix . . . L.A. . . . Chicago . . . Detroit . . . Ah, what more could a kind of short, kind of endearing guy want?

Perhaps a chance to write, produce, direct and star in a movie involving real basketball players and a beautiful woman? You bet.

In "Forget Paris," Billy Crystal's second directing venture (the first was "Mr. Saturday Night" in 1992), Crystal himself stars as top-notch NBA referee Mickey Gordon, and he gets the ball, the girl -- and most of the good one-liners.

The movie is fun, predictable, mindless. Crystal aims to hit anyone who has ever endured the ups and downs of a long-term relationship somewhere between the heart and the funny bone.

He succeeds most of the time, though the film is essentially a series of sappy romantic scenes strung together by Crystal doing stand-up comedy lines.

That may be the five-time Emmy Award winner's only talent, but it is not an inconsiderable one. And Debra Winger, who as Crystal's co-star has to put up with some wretched dialogue, shines in the film's funniest scene -- involving a pigeon, her hair and some super-stick flypaper.

There is a film school's worth of clunky devices to move the story forward. It's framed as a series of flashbacks narrated by their friends as they wait for the couple to join them for dinner at a restaurant. Each duo at the table represents a possible variation on marriage. There's the youngsters, Andy and Liz, (Joe Mantegna and Cynthia Stevenson). There's married and happy Craig and Lucy (Richard Masur and Julie Kavner). And there's long-time married but ought-not-to-be Jack and Lois (Cathy Moriarty and John Spencer).

Through them, we see Mickey, a top-notch NBA ref with a dream life of championship games, beautiful cheerleaders and the chance to boss around the likes of Charles Barkley, Spud Webb, Isiah Thomas and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (played convincingly by themselves).

Still, he's a bachelor so set in his ways that his version of a wild time is going to the movies and ordering veal parmigiana -- no matter what restaurant, what city, what country he's in.

As the story unfolds, Mickey leaves the U.S. to go on an unlikely quest to bury his father in Paris. Naturally, the airline loses the body. Mickey is stuck dealing with uncooperative French officials -- until Ellen (Winger), the airline's American public relations manager, steps in to help.

From then on the nightmare trip turns into a romantic dream. The couple makes falling in love as easy as sightseeing. Traipsing from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, Mickey wins Ellen by trotting out his best jokes and imitations. (Read: Crystal's best jokes and imitations.)

Despite the shared laughter, Mickey returns to the States alone. Not unexpectedly, he realizes that his life is empty without Ellen. So acute is his loneliness that he erupts at a basketball game in ways that will delight anyone who ever felt like a little person: As Abdul-Jabbar, Oakley, Ewing, Laimbeer tower over him, Mickey throws two complete teams out of the game.

Mickey and Ellen re-unite and marry. They argue. Boy, do they argue.

Theirs is an off-and-on marriage, albeit one that seems to last 40 years in real time rather than the four years that the movie covers. Theirs is the story of the pesky realities that crop up after the honeymoon ends -- and when the jokes fall flat.

Many of the jokes in this comedy fall flat too, but when they fly, they soar.

"Forget Paris"

Directed by Billy Crystal

Starring Billy Crystal, Debra Winger

Released by Castle Rock Entertainment

Rated PG-13

... **

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