(director: Peter Chelsom; screenwriter: Marc Klein; cinematographer: John de Borman; editor: Christopher Greenbury; cast: John Cusack (Jonathan Trager), Kate Beckinsale (Sara Thomas), Jeremy Piven (obit writer, Dean), Bridget Moynahan (Hally), John Corbett (Lars), Molly Shannon (Eve), Eugene Levy (Bloomingdale’s Salesman); Runtime: 87; Miramax; 2001)
“Superficial and predictable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

They don’t come more sugary than this feel-good fluff piece. It’s a romantic comedy that spins every formulaic device possible into overdrive to come up with its cutesy love story, missing only the presence of Julia Roberts and any sort of genuine passion. It plays as if it was an ad showing how the ‘Beautiful People’ spend some quality time doing the NYC scene by taking in the Waldorf Astoria, Bloomingdales, Central Park’s Wollman Rink, and when looking up toward the skies they can even spot NYC’s tallest skyscaper–the Empire State Building. It was all so superficial and predictable. The comedy was oooh so heavy-handed and the romance was unbearably contrived. To get in the mood for this goo, one has to find numerous coincidental situations believable even if they are not possible.

If you like a flick that’s pretty to look at, has attractive leads, sells its love story like a $100 hooker sells herself in Times Square, is brainless and anti-septic, and requires no thought, then this film might be in your diet.

The lead character, the very beautiful British actress who plays Sara Thomas, Kate Beckinsale, tells us that “Serendipity” has a nice sound for what it means– a fortunate accident. It also stands for the name of a sweets shop in Manhattan where the two strangers first get to talk to each other while sitting down over an ice cream sundae.

The film opens in Bloomingdales during the Christmas season and Jonathan Trager (Cusack) grabs for the same pair of cashmere gloves as does Sara and then he looks into her luminous eyes, sees astronomical formed freckles on her arm, and falls madly in love with her. When he asks for her number a gust of wind blows the paper out of his hand. Sara sees this as a sign that their fate should now be in the hands of the gods and sets up two other possible chance meetings with him in the hopes of fate determining whether they will meet again. After all she ‘reasons,’ if that’s a good word to use in this film review, they are both currently involved with someone else. He writes his name and number on a $5 bill which immediately gets passed on to a newspaper kiosk vender. She writes hers on the inside of a copy of García Márquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” which she promises to sell tomorrow to a used bookstore.

The movie shifts to three years later and they are both set to marry different mates. They have had no contact, but with their impending weddings approaching soon they begin to think of each other and yearn to meet again. Jon, a field producer for ESPN, who wears his yuppie heart on his sleeve and agonizes over not being with his ideal soulmate. He is set to marry the stiffly beautiful Halley (Bridget Moynahan), who has nothing to say or do in this film but be pushed over for another. Meanwhile Sara, now a San Francisco therapist, is to marry a gimmicky New Age musician Lars (John Corbett), whose idea of romance is to propose in the living room of their S.F. house before a fireplace and a bunch of burning candles placed on stands at different heights in a setting that looks like it’s an ad for furnishings placed in a Bloomie’s catalog. Both feel uneasy with their choices of mates; so both decide to look for each other. Can you guess if they will succeed!

The film gets comedy relief from the supporting cast. The best comedy comes from Dean (Piven), an obit writer for the N.Y. Times and Jon’s best friend. He writes an hilarious obit for Jon based on what the Greeks might have said if they wrote obits for someone who died for love. Sara’s best friend is Eve (Shannon), a New Age waitress, whose cliché and underdeveloped role is as the good-hearted wisecracking best friend who only exists for Sara. There’s also some forced comedy via acerbic quips from a stuffy Bloomie’s salesman (Eugene Levy), who helps Jon track down Sara through her credit card number. He provides some laughs, except he hangs around too long and begins to become tiresome.

You can believe as this film does in “fate determining one’s future,” but it does an awful job in proving its case. Though, I’ve seen much worst romantic comedies; at least, the leads didn’t turn me completely off. Which is the best I can say about this flick.

REVIEWED ON 10/13/2001 GRADE: C –