Michael Keaton, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Marisa Tomei
The newspaper market continues to shrink (it's that ominous dry crackling you hear when you have the TV volume down low), and the age of smart-mouthed, ink-stained movies like The Front Page and Sweet Smell of Success is long over. Which makes The Paper, about a day in the life of a struggling New York tabloid, almost an exercise in nostalgia. It's a pretty enjoyable one, though. Ron Howard has directed this comedy-drama with a confident smoothness that, in one key scene—editor Keaton frantically fielding calls from his pregnant wife (Tomei), a reporter (Roma Maffia) and an editor at a rival paper (Spalding Gray)—turns positively zingy. Sexy, even: Keaton is turned on because ex-reporter Tomei has turned up a crucial fact for the next day's front-page story.
But after building to this energetic high, The Paper loses its punch. The plot is reduced to telegraphic, almost hysterical headline-ese: medical emergencies, a crazed gunman and a bloody-nosed fight between Keaton and Close, his superior in the newsroom, that plays like a badly staged parody of Fatal Attraction. Also, was it necessary that everyone turn out to be decent, caring, and committed to truth and/or family? This kind of soft-heartedness ultimately robs The Paper's, skillful cast members of their considerable bite. The exception is Duvall, as an editor trying to reconcile with his daughter after learning that he has cancer. It's hard to imagine any other actor who could convey heartbreak and redemption with such sinewy) toughness. (R)