Coming Contractions

And that's pretty much that. The rest of the film wallows in Samuel's kvetching and depicts his by-the-numbers transformation from self-involved schmuck to selfless dad-to-be, punctuated only by a clumsy interlude wherein Columbus concocts a thoroughly unconvincing breakup so Samuel can get his ear pierced, try out swinging bachelorhood, and find it wanting. (Look! Hugh Grant in-line skating in San Francisco! Watch out for that hill....Oh my gosh!)

Columbus occasionally displays the flair for gentle slapstick that served him so well in Home Alone; a smartly orchestrated toy store fistfight between Tom Arnold and a smart-alecky salesman in a Barney-like dinosaur costume makes up for in execution what it lacks in plot relevance. But most of the time the director resorts to the usual manipulative dreck, such as the "complication" in the seventh month of Rebecca's pregnancy that sends her to the hospital and gives Samuel a chance to prove to her what a stand-up guy he's become, or the drawn-out race-to-the-hospital sequence (Samuel, having traded in the Porsche for a family car, keeps running into pedestrians as he drives, see, so he has to pick them up and take them along and the car gets really overcrowded and one guy's feet stick out the window and...) when Rebecca is ready to deliver.

As he did in Mrs. Doubtfire, Williams saves the day. The comedian, playing a nervous Russian emigre obstetrician, appears in only two scenes, but they are by far the film's funniest. Like Grant, Williams often substitutes shtick for acting. Unlike Grant, Williams is a great clown. Perhaps, even despite Columbus's heavy hand, if Grant's and Williams's roles had been reversed, this baby could have been saved. As it stands we're left with too much hemming and hawing, squirming and feinting, and more eyelash fluttering than you've ever seen from a male actor not dressed in drag.

Hugh Grant has run out of tricks.
As a public service, New Times hereby opens the Hugh Grant hotline. Any time you hear a howler with Hugh as the punch line and cannot wait to pass it on, call 579-1577 and repeat it for us. Next week we'll publish the best of the worst.

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