"Cross My Heart" (citywide) is about a pair of star-crossed daters. In it, Martin Short and Annette O'Toole play David and Kathy, two young Angelenos who live close to the bone but want to gild it. They want to give each other the right third-date image: cool, controlled, casually sexy.
They keep talking about getting their lives together, and the movie's main joke is that they haven't. They're faking. He's just lost his job; she's a single mother with a 7-year old daughter. Just as Kathy hides her daughter, David masquerades as the winner he isn't. His affluent pal Bruce has lent him keys to his Lincoln Continental and swank bachelor pad for the night.
The evening is a series of small catastrophes. David loses the car to a thief, and the two of them klutzily wreck Bruce's apartment and each other's persona. The mishaps strip away their pretensions and leave them face to face--together.
Director-writer Armyan Bernstein almost has a wonderful premise here. And the movie has a nice look. Thomas Del Ruth shoots it well, and production designer Laurence G. Paull ("Blade Runner") does Bruce's Art Deco digs in amusingly deliberately bad taste: sterile, vacant, full of metal and glass surfaces and neon gewgaws.
But "Cross My Heart" doesn't have the right kind of comic mainspring. Somehow Bernstein and co-writer Gail Parent keep losing the beat. David's apartment--which he's ashamed to show Kathy--is mean-looking only by Bel-Air standards. And though Kathy has to relieve her baby sitter/friend by midnight, there's no frantic buildup as the witching hour approaches.
If the jokes are shorted, so are the attempts at realism and human empathy. Kathy and David are probably playing a couple of quasi-'60s types--open, ingenuous, fallible--trapped in an '80s dress-for-success, hard-shell, win-win mold. But part way through, the movie seems to lose them. Instead of the desperate, self-conscious pair we started with, they turn harder, more glib and selfish. David and Kathy are either lying too much--sacrificing empathy and humanity--or lying too little--sabotaging humor.
Short and O'Toole have the skills to carry a bravura, largely two-character piece like this, but their chemistry is off. It's Lee Arenberg as the car thief--with ripe, sneaky, paranoid glares--who gives the movie's best performance.
Bernstein and Parent don't fail here in the usual ways. They rarely write quick, clunky modern movie-style dialogue--but their humor is thin, spread-out, inconsistent. "Cross My Heart" (MPAA-rated: R) is another tantalizing also-ran, The movie has a decent sensibility and a few funny gags but its heart seems a little crossed, its slant on dating games in more dangerous times a little worn.