Picks and Pans Review: Dogfight

updated 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

River Phoenix, Lili Taylor

The title comes from a Marine practice of giving parties where the man bringing the ugliest woman gets a prize. That "dogfight" tradition hardly boosts the Corps' image, but it's a strong premise for a movie.

Director Nancy (True Love) Savoca and writer Bob Comfort, an ex-Marine, exploit the premise straightforwardly, with Taylor (Mystic Pizza) as a rumpled waitress whom Phoenix (Running on Empty) picks up in San Francisco just before shipping out in 1963.

Comfort's script feels archaic—there's a brief go at an anti—Vietnam War notion—but he has a wry touch. When Taylor complains that Marines swear too much, one of Phoenix's buddies, Anthony Clark, drawls, "They're just words. After a while, you don't even hear it. Don't mean s—-."

The romance involving Phoenix and Taylor is sweetly believable. While its resolution is lame, the two young actors appealingly go through the trials and joys of mutual attraction. (R)

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