Picks and Pans Review: Return to Me

updated 04/17/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/17/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, Bonnie Hunt, Jim Belushi, Carroll O'Connor

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This congenial romantic comedy really shouldn't work, but darned if it doesn't. Return to Ale's plot, about a heart transplant (both surgical and sentimental), is as hokey as they come. The movie follows a widower (Duchovny), an architect in Chicago, as he falls in love with a waitress (Driver). Neither realizes until late in the proceedings what the audience has known from the beginning: The transplanted ticker thumping so loudly in Driver's chest every time the two embrace previously belonged to Duchovny's beloved wife (Joely Richardson), who died in a car crash a year earlier.

Despite the melodramatic premise, it soon becomes clear that there's no point in fighting Return's ample charms. The movie doesn't push, either with its pacing or its relationships. It takes its time letting both the major characters and their connections grow. It gives supporting characters plenty to do. And it celebrates the ordinary activities of everyday life among family and friends, including bowling, playing cards and yelling at the kids when they won't pipe down.

Many of the movie's most endearing scenes take place at O'Reilly's Italian restaurant, where Driver works. The place is operated by her Irish grandfather (O'Connor) and his Italian brother-in-law (Robert Loggia), both of whom seem to be competing here to demonstrate who has the bigger twinkle in his eyes. Before Duchovny arrives on the scene, O'Connor even tries to set Driver up with a customer. "He's had a transplant too," O'Connor says reassuringly, "hair transplants."

Credit for the movie's sweet, easygoing tone belongs to Bonnie Hunt, the comic actress who recently brightened The Green Mile as Tom Hanks's wife. She cowrote and directed Return and also shows up as Driver's tart-tongued best buddy. Duchovny, looser here than on TV's The X-Files, makes for a winning if somewhat drab leading man, while Driver, wavering between raucous and tremulous, glows throughout. (PG)

Bottom Line: A romantic comedy with heart to spare

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