Picks and Pans Review: Prelude to a Kiss

updated 07/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Alec Baldwin, Sydney Walker, Meg Ryan

Apparently aimed at the post-Ghost psychic romance market, this film is a parable whose message is love conquers all. Adapted from a hit play, the sometimes softheaded film centers on the serious Baldwin and the almost manic Ryan, who meet at a party. Though in many ways they're opposites—he wants children, she doesn't, he embraces life, she fears it—they quickly fall in love and make plans to many.

But Prelude is no simple walk-off-into-the-sunset romance. Just before the wedding ceremony, for example, Ryan closely questions Baldwin about whether he will still love her when she's a sagging centenarian. Then during the ceremony, she appears to stumble over the part of the vow dealing with sickness and health. And to cap things off, there's a mysterious guest at the wedding, a gat-crashing senior citizen, the veteran stage actor Walker, who asks the bride for a kiss and then receives it to the clichéd accompaniment of a suddenly darkened sky.

It's during the couple's Jamaica honeymoon, though, that Baldwin becomes convinced something is amiss. Ryan, a former socialist, is bewilderingly cavalier about the economic disparity between tourists and natives. Also, even though she was a bartender, she doesn't know the ingredients in Long Island Iced Tea. Gradually, Baldwin realizes that Ryan and the wedding guest have somehow switched bodies, which means he is effectively in love with an infirm old man, a new twist on movies like Big and Freaky Friday.

There is a piercingly lovely flow of language through sections of Prelude, but that turns out to be a problem. However effectively playwright-screenwriter Craig Lucas's words may have bounced off theater walls, such words, in the movie, have a stagy, artificial edge. Director Norman (Longtime Companion) René tries to compensate with such contrivances as high-angle camera shots, but to no good purpose. For the most part, Ryan, who tosses her hair and flashes her teeth coquettishly in a manner that went out with Farrah Fawcett, basically reprises her ditsy When Harry Met Sally...role. It is left more to Walker and most to Baldwin (who originated the role off-Broadway) to effectively carry the movie's emotional freight. (PG-13)

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