'Random' Numbness; Neither a tense thriller nor a steamy romance, director Sydney Pollack's film wanders all over the place without ever getting us to feel anything


A great sense of apprehension builds up during the opening sequences of "Random Hearts." With Dave Grusin's suave jazz score in the background, two couples prepare for another typical day. Congresswoman Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas) bids her husband goodbye as he departs for New York; simultaneously police sergeant Dutch Van Den Broek (Harrison Ford) chats with his wife after a sweaty morning jog. It all looks perfectly ordinary, but as choreographed by director Sydney Pollack, these early-morning scenes are of course anything but.

It won't give too much away to say that a plane crash radically alters the life course of these four people and that in its aftermath, Kay and Dutch find a nagging mystery as well as nascent affection. It's at this juncture, when Dutch begins to use his policeman's curiosity to ferret out the truth beneath the wreckage, that "Random Hearts" starts down the road toward becoming thoroughly incomprehensible.

Whether this story is meant to be about unlikely romance found later in life, sexual obsession or just another few weeks in the life of a dogged gumshoe who, as he says, "is paid to notice stuff," is never entirely clear. As its title inadvertently suggests, "Random Hearts" seems like so many random episodes (set against such stylish back-drops as Miami's South Beach, Saks Fifth Avenue and the Eastern Shore) thrown against a wall until a few of them stick. The usually reliable Pollack seems uncharacteristically unsure of his material here, sending characters on a two-hour goose chase, the quarry of which remains confoundingly elusive.

One of the chief problems with "Random Hearts," which was adapted from Warren Adler's novel, is the presence of Ford, whose talents with a crisis are formidable (see "Air Force One," "Clear and Present Danger" and "The Fugitive"), but whose luck with romances is more spotty (see "Sabrina" and "Six Days, Seven Nights").

Here he's supposed to be playing a man in the grips of a powerful, albeit posthumous, sexual jealousy, but his congenital reserve makes Dutch's emotional journey difficult to discern. With so little on his sleeve, rather than confusion and vulnerability Ford simply projects a grizzled impenetrability. The actor's signature grim impassivity may work when you're staring down terrorists, but here it's an infuriating barrier to connecting with his character.

Scott Thomas fares a little better as a Congresswoman for whom the stakes of Dutch's investigation are supposedly high (or so Pollack strenuously tries to convince us, without success). So wan she's almost translucent, she goes through some odd changes of heart throughout the movie, at first taking understandable umbrage at Dutch's obsessive and intrusive behavior, then inexplicably joining him in Miami, then even more inexplicably succumbing to his questionable charms upon their return. There are a lot of meaningful glances and downed cocktails in between all of this, to make up for the absence of any dialogue of import, depth or surprise.

By the ambiguous conclusion of "Random Hearts," audiences will at least be grateful for one thing: during the torturous two-hour, 11-minute running time of this movie, no one ever actually says the word "closure." But that's a small victory from a film that could have been a respite from the juvenilia that passes for so much contemporary romance. Indeed with its obsessive mood and theme of sexual jealousy and betrayal, "Random Hearts" might have been a more mainstream bookend to the flawed but provocative "Eyes Wide Shut." Instead it's just another tepid entry into this year's Death-as-Turn-On Sweepstakes.

'Random Hearts'

Starring Harrison Ford, Kristin Scott Thomas

Directed by Sydney Pollack

Rated R (brief violence, sexuality and language)

Running time 131 minutes

Released by Columbia Pictures

Sun score *

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