Picks and Pans Review: Love at Large

updated 04/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/02/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tom Berenger, Elizabeth Perkins

Things aren't always what they seem, of course, but director Alan Rudolph's movies—Welcome to L.A., Choose Me, The Moderns—sure appear to be consistently enigmatic, ambiguous, abstract and as calculatingly sly as a fox with an MBA from Harvard. They are almost always entertaining, too, and this one is no exception.

Rudolph likes to create unsettling uncertainty by not revealing exactly where or when his movies take place, but Love at Large is set in a fairly big city and has a '40s-'50s feel. It spoofs that era's B-movie detective dramas, with Berenger playing a klutzy private eye hired to follow a mysterious gangster type. His client is Anne (Fatal Attraction) Archer, deftly playing a tough part as an oversexed, underbrained moll. But then this film is full of first-rate actresses. Perkins (Big) displays a sweet, sorority sister appeal as a neophyte detective who is hired to follow Berenger by his girlfriend, the convincingly ditzy Ann (Making Mr. Right) Magnuson.

Further complicating these complications, Berenger ends up following the wrong man. Ted (Ironweed) Levine is totally unrelated to the Archer-Young part of the story but has his own story going: He is a bigamist who maintains separate families in different cities, with Kate (Black Rain) Capshaw and Annette (Cross My Heart) O'Toole as his wives.

This plot is so involved and fragile that it constantly threatens to dissolve into mere foolishness. But Rudolph, who also wrote the script, is so precise and his cast is so exceptional that the dramatic-satiric-comedic tension is beautifully maintained.

While there are no guffaws in this movie, there are lots of smiles, and there is also enough speculation on the nature of love and romance to make Love at Large a fairly close relative of The War of the Roses.

On the periphery of a lot of scenes, Rudolph includes glimpses of couples kissing passionately, as if he believes that everybody in the world is in love. On the other hand, all of the relationships in the main plot are built on shifty foundations, starting with that of Berenger and Archer.

When she hires him, Archer tells Berenger, "I know I can trust you."

Since they've just met, he's puzzled and asks, "How do you know that?"

All sincerity, she replies, "Because I read it in the phone book at the train station."

If that, to Rudolph, is the kind of world it is, who's to argue with him? (R)

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