[Screen It]

(1999) (Chris O'Donnell, Renee Zellweger) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: A self-proclaimed bachelor learns that he has just one day to get married or else he'll lose the $100 million inheritance his grandfather has left him.
Jimmie Shannon (CHRIS O'DONNELL) is a self-proclaimed bachelor who loves the freedom of not being tied down. Although he and his photographer girlfriend, Anne (RENEE ZELLWEGER), get along just fine, neither seem ready or willing to move on to the next big step of their relationship.

Yet when his friends, including best buddy and coworker, Marco (ARTIE LANG), gets hitched, Jimmie starts to feel the pressure. Arranging a romantic dinner at an establishment known for inducing marriage proposals, Jimmie reluctantly and awkwardly pops the question to Anne. She sees that his heart isn't really into it, however, and turns him down.

As Anne returns home to complain to her roommate sister, Natalie (MARLEY SHELTON), Jimmie gets some mixed news. For one, he learns that his grandfather (PETER USTINOV) has passed away, but has left Jimmie the $100 million balance of his estate in his will. The catch, however, is that Jimmie has to be married by just after 6:00 p.m. on the day of his thirtieth birthday, which just happens to be the following day.

With the prompting of Marco, family attorney Gluckman (EDWARD ASNER), and stock broker O'Dell (HAL HOLBROOK) who collectively inform him that the family's billiards business will be sold due to provisions in the will if he doesn't get married, Jimmie halfheartedly asks Anne again for her hand in marriage. Nevertheless, she turns him down once more and reportedly heads off for a three-week assignment in Athens.

Thus, and with less than twenty-four hours to go and realizing that the money and his company are at stake, Jimmie starts asking his former girlfriends -- including ex-debutante Buckley (BROOKE SHIELDS), opera singer Ilana (MARIAH CAREY), commodities broker Stacy (REBECCA CROSS), and tough cop Daphne (JENNIFER ESPOSITO), among others -- to marry him and even has a priest (JAMES CROMWELL) standing by just in case any of them might agree to the arrangement.

With time running out, things looking bleak and Marco, Gluckman, and O'Dell willing to do anything to make sure he gets married, Jimmie finds his views on marriage changing and hopes he'll have another chance with Anne.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In New Line Cinema's latest romantic comedy offering, "The Bachelor," a small group of men sits around a TV watching the videotaped last will and testament of a feisty old man. As he drops the bombshell that the self-proclaimed bachelor of the film's title must get married in what turns out to be just over twenty- four hours lest he forfeit the family fortune, one of the older characters chimes in with his observation, "What is this, Brewster's Millions?"

He's not alone, for this film does sound very familiar to both the 1945 and 1985 versions of that story (that starred Dennis O'Keefe and Richard Pryor respectively). For those not familiar with it, the story filmed several other times as well involved the title character having to spend a large sum of money in a set period in order to receive an even larger inheritance.

For those with an even greater film knowledge, however, they'll realize that this is actually a remake of the 1925 silent film, "Seven Chances" where comic legend Buster Keaton played a character who found that he similarly had to get married by a deadline in order to inherit a great fortune. Thus, while the plot certainly isn't a novel premise, it still manages to work and plays off the long-standing and popular game show notion where people must beat the clock to win cash or prizes.

That said, the film isn't anything particularly spectacular, doesn't elicit as many laughs as it should considering its potential-filled premise and will probably have a short and modest run at the box office. Even so, it's certainly entertaining enough in a diversionary sort of way that audiences should find it relatively easy to enjoy its lightweight and charming proceedings.

In essence, the film attempts to mine its comedy from two key sources. The most obvious one is the "race against the clock and ask everyone you know to marry you until someone agrees" element. Not only does this give the film a brisk pace, but it also generates a certain amount of decent laughs as the protagonist turns from one ex-girlfriend to the next, although none of them -- save for Brooke Shields as a snobbish, chain smoking ex-debutante -- gets more than a few moments on the screen.

The other mined element is that the hopeful groom actually isn't that charged up about getting married to one of his former girlfriends. While he'd like the money and certainly wants to keep the family company and its workers' jobs safe, deep down he doesn't want to be with anyone other than his girlfriend. Unfortunately, she's currently ticked off at him for his two half-hearted and disastrously delivered proposals.

To make matters worse, he really doesn't want to get married in the first place. While that's also far from being the first or last time that plot device will appear in a film, it's a point that's comically introduced here at the beginning as his friends are snared, or more accurately, lassoed and then broken like the bunch of wild stallions with which they obviously identity themselves.

Although both repeatedly explored plot elements provide for some laughs, isolated individual moments are often far more humorous than the overall proceedings. Among them is a funny bit where our protagonist stands with a visibly nervous bunch of other bachelors who are anxiously awaiting for their dates to arrive at a restaurant that younger people only attend when they're planning to get engaged.

Of course the biggest laugh, ruined by its inclusion in the trailer and TV commercials, is the sight of several hundred brides-to-be chasing the potential groom up and down the streets of San Francisco. Although this film jettisons the multitude of rolling boulders added to the mix in the Keaton version, the effect is still a wonderfully daffy and outrageous sight gag.

As with most romantic comedies, a likable pair of performers in the key romantic roles is a must, and both Chris O'Donnell and Renee Zellweger ably fit the bill here. Playing the playboy who gets his comeuppance when he realizes those he previously dumped are no longer interested or available, O'Donnell ("Batman and Robin," "The Chamber") does a fine, if not exactly exceptional job of portraying his character.

Inhabiting his romantically cautious counterpart, Zellweger ("Jerry Maguire," "The Whole Wide World") similarly delivers a decent performance, reminding us once again why everybody liked her so much in "Maguire." Supporting performances are good, if comically two-dimensional at best, with James Cromwell ("Babe") as the dragged along priest, Hal Holbrook ("The Firm") playing an older man with lots of marriage advice, and especially Peter Ustinov ("Spartacus") as the bachelor's feisty grandfather all easily upstaging their more prominent co-stars.

Although it's clearly nothing spectacular, could have been far funnier, and pales in comparison to the far more zany and now nearly 75-year-old original, this film is fun enough in a diversionary sort of way and offers enough charming and entertaining moments to earn a passing grade. As such, "The Bachelor" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed November 2, 1999 / Posted November 5, 1999

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