09/07/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
Larenz Tate, Halle Berry
, Vivica A. Fox, Lela Rochon
Marriage came easily to singer Frankie Lymon. The onetime teen idol wed three times. Divorce was harder. He didn't go for that. Two decades after Lymon's death from a drug overdose in 1968 at age 25, three women, each claiming to be his widow, battled in court for his $500,000-plus estate. Most of the dough came from royalties on "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" a Top 10 hit recorded by Lymon and his singing group the Teenagers in 1956, when he was just a pipsqueak of 13.
That song provides not just the title but the question at the heart of Why Do Fools Fall in Love, a ramshackle bio picture about Lymon (Tate) in which we learn more about the dissimilar women he wed—a successful singer (Berry), a shoplifting, single mother on welfare (Fox) and a churchgoing schoolteacher (Rochon)—than about Lymon himself. Fools could just as easily have been called Why Do Smart Women Marry Lying, Cheating, Alcohol-and Drug-Abusing Men Who Sing Like Angels and Once Were Famous? You won't find a decent answer to that query here. Rather, in Fools each gal falls in love with an aspect of Lymon—Berry his charismatic stage presence, Fox his promises to reform, and Rochon his essential sweetness—which she mistakes for the whole man.
Director Gregory Nava (Selena) stages the concert scenes with flashy vigor but can't overcome the script's built-in clumsiness as it alternates between the courtroom and flashbacks. As the women who loved Lymon too much, Berry, Fox and Rochon pounce on their roles as if they'd been tossed buttered lobster tails after years of fish sticks. The scenes in which all three appear together are particularly vivid. Tate works hard but never quite manages to show us what made Lymon tick. (R)
Bottom Line: A few good notes but thin stretches in between