When Albert Einstein's scientist niece Catherine (Meg Ryan) shows more interest in a guy with a high I.Q. than one with a golden heart, Einstein (Walter Matthau) and a gaggle of his absent-minded professor mates, play cupid to save her from a gloomy marriage to a stuffy English shrink (Stephen Fry) and endear her to Eddie, the grease-stained garage mechanic (Tim Robbins) who loves her.
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Mechanic Eddie (Tim Robbins) is bitten by the love bug (common euphemism for lust) the moment he fixes those beady eyes on Catherine (Meg Ryan) as she is driven into the servo by her foppish fiancé James (Stephen Fry). No one will blame Fast Eddie, of course, for having the hot flushes over Meg, but women are more practical and can see beyond man's monomania for unbridled rumpy-pumpy to the bigger picture.
Catherine, after all, is a scientist and the niece of no less of a genius than Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau). She believes that she needs a man who is a good match for her mentally someone who won't be stuck in the garage flushing fuel tanks while she's round the dinner table discussing physics with her famous uncle. Given that James is a man who makes his living fixing electrodes to the genitals of laboratory rats, it shouldn't take an Einstein to figure out that this is flawed thinking, but for the sake of the story it's up to Albert and his venerable buddies to convince Catherine that Eddie is a hell of a lot smarter than she thinks he is.
This fanciful romantic fluff-ball recalls the screwball comedies of Hollywood's Golden era, but is fatally flawed by an affliction akin to Capracorn - after Frank Capra who filmed a string of woolly and whimsical odes to the common man in the 1930s and 40s. It is directed by Fred Schepisi, who had a hit with the Cyrano de Bergerac retread Roxanne in 1987 but who falters with similar confection here. The films are like first cousins and the rather too obvious cross-pollination includes Einstein ghost-writing Ed's love letters to Catherine (just as Cyrano did for Christian), scenes of lovers cooing over the moon and plots that involve astrological phenomena, like the imminent arrival of a comet.
While only a Scrooge would deem the film offensive I suspect that some readers with elevated I.Qs would find it insufferable. It isn't especially funny or witty and relies more on contrived situations than clever plotting. Ryan's cloying Catherine is more irritating than ingratiating and Robbins' besotted gazing in awe of her soon becomes a bore. Matthau alone cannot carry this load of old codswallop on his frail shoulders but he takes a worthy stab, curbing his usual mannerisms, with an endearing display of doddering genius, backed-up by a chattering chorus of ageing cronies (Lou Jacobi, Joe Maher and Gene Saks). Eventually it ends, as we always knew it would, with the kind of homily no self-respecting Einstein would ever utter. "Never let your brains interfere with your hearts," he cautions. Capra maybe, but Einstein, never.
Published January 15, 2004
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CAST: Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, Walter Matthau
DIRECTOR: Fred Schepisi
SCRIPT: Andy Breckman, Michael Leeson
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
PRESENTATION: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9. Dolby Digital. English 5.1
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Kaleidoscope
DVD RELEASE: November 13, 2003