Just as Frankie is roused by Johnny, Pfeiffer seems invigorated by Pacino. Her performance becomes more intimate, more carnal, less dependent on superficial tics. The film peaks in the bedroom - a lovemaking session set to Rickie Lee Jones's "It Must Be Love," as well as a scene in which Johnny asks Frankie to drop her robe and allow him to look at her. "Just for fifteen seconds," he pleads. "I just want to see the woman I love, just to know that I can." Frankie objects: "I can't tell when you're serious or playing games." "Both," he answers, "serious games." Frankie eventually agrees to strip, and Pfeiffer elevates her acting wonderfully. She's both smoldering and levelheaded. We need more fairy tales for adults, where sexual etiquette is a real issue and personalities are permitted to keep their sharp edges. And ideally, they'll all have performances like these.

By the middle of the film, Pacino and Pfeiffer are locked in twin-star orbit, and it's up to the supporting performers to, well, support. Nelligan, Morris, and Elizondo (despite a Greek accent that consists of little more than broken syntax) are excellent, and Nathan Lane, who has the film resume of a victim (He Said, She Said, The Lemon Sisters, Joe vs. The Volcano) starts off annoying but improves markedly as Frankie's gay neighbor.

As the performers grow into their roles, the only facet of the film that holds it back (with the exception of Marvin Hamlisch's sickly-sweet score) is the direction. Marshall has a penchant for pointless inserts - the busboy who pops into the coffee shop to chirp, "Nick, I got a cab," the squirrel that darts across a strip of park in superfluous close-up - and in many cases he has just neglected to monitor the continuity. Characters jump from here to there; a face seen in three-quarters suddenly shifts to profile. It's a shame such good performances and solid writing must serve one of the most casually helmed films in recent memory, and the laziness of the Marshall plan finally seems to be a form of disrespect, if not a warning to future collaborators: You can lead a hack to talent, but you can't make him careful.

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