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It's What It Isn't That Charms Fans : Movies: Viewers love 'Sleepless in Seattle' for being a sweet love story that doesn't need sex, violence or obscenities.

July 05, 1993|MONICA YANT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Up against elaborate special effects in "Jurassic Park" and high-power suspense in "The Firm," a dreamy little film about life and love, of all things, is running neck and neck with these powerhouses and wowing audiences nationwide.

Even so, pegging Nora Ephron's unassuming romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle" and its target audience is no easy task.

Men are quick to call it a "date movie" or a "chick flick," just as Tom Hanks' character in the movie dubs the oft-quoted 1957 classic "An Affair to Remember." Wives and girlfriends shake their heads in frustration, convinced that the hokey, storybook ending in "Sleepless" is one that both woman and men can appreciate.

And kids? Well, all girls under the age of 14 can talk about is how cute and sweet that Ross Malinger is as the do-gooder son-of-the-century Jonah Baldwin.

Amid the good-natured squabbling about what the good-natured "Sleepless in Seattle" really is, one consensus has emerged: that it may be what the movie doesn't have that makes it so special.

At least that's the sentiment of Victor Salazar, and he should know. An usher at the AMC Seven Theaters in Santa Monica--where "Sleepless" has sold out virtually every show since it opened June 25--Salazar sees a lot of movies and even more moviegoers.

"People are tired of the violence in the movies," says Salazar. The movie's innocence just might explain why "Sleepless" has left mega-monster "Last Action Hero" sputtering in its own car chase.

"Hero" took a hard hit from "Sleepless" viewer Henry Shimojyo of La Mirada: "Arnold (Schwarzenegger) needs some acting lessons."

In fact, Shimojyo had kinder words for a rival film headlined by mechanical dinosaurs: " 'Jurassic Park' was more scientific, where this was emotional. They're two different subjects."

Wendy Sanders of Newport Beach also saw "Jurassic," but liked "Sleepless" better: "No comparison to 'Jurassic Park.' The story was much better in this one. Of course, who can compete with those great animals?"

For the record, "Sleepless" is a romance without sex, a comedy without foul language and the closest thing to violence in the film is Meg Ryan falling out of a broom closet. Whether Ephron and crew intended it or not, the film is a PG poster child and a parent's dream.

Salazar is not alone in declaring the movie "perfect for everybody." Audiences from Encino to Costa Mesa agree that short of being a bit corny at times, there's not much to dislike about "Sleepless."

"It's not going to win any Academy Awards," said Candace Holston of Sherman Oaks, "but it was real sweet."

*

If audiences are finding faults with "Sleepless," it isn't evident at the box office. The TriStar movie starring Hanks, Ryan and best-buddy extraordinaire Rosie O'Donnell grossed more than $17 million in its opening weekend, the highest ever for a romantic comedy. And as of Saturday night, the film has grossed more than $36 million in just nine days, according to Ed Russell, senior vice president for publicity at TriStar.

Los Angeles resident Leigh Fairclough has seen "Sleepless" three times. With daughters Brittany, 15, and Bryn, 13, and son Brett, 10, in tow Friday night in Century City, Fairclough could be a walking advertisement for the film's emphasis on family: "It's funny, with no violence and no sex. It gives them a nice view of what life should be like."

Debbie Elwood and Moshe Meppen, both of Los Angeles, said they too could identify with the movie's feel-good themes: "The characters were real. They were the types of people we would know."

But just as the movie's lovelorn Annie (Ryan) is unable to explain just what draws her to an unknown radio voice across the country, viewers are split on what drew them to "Sleepless."

For many women--and even a few men--the prospect of old-fashioned romance lured them to "Sleepless," just like it lured them to Ephron's 1989 movie "When Harry Met Sally. . . ."

"I think most women have an idea of romantic love, of meeting the one man for them," said Linda Howald of Los Angeles.

But dismissing the film as just another tear-jerker aimed at overly sensitive women is selling "Sleepless" too short, according to many viewers.

"We both wanted to see it," said Shimojyo of La Mirada, who took Yamileth Avendano of Santa Ana to the movie in Costa Mesa. "It's emotional for both guys and girls. I found it touching."

For many viewers, the return of the good, clean happy ending in "Sleepless" comes none too soon.

"The economy's bad, we're all surrounded by problems and there's so much violence," said Renata Harris of Los Angeles. "This is a good escape, in a charming, loving way."

"I love the old movies," added Sharon Fox, who saw "Sleepless" in Santa Monica Saturday. "Anything that can bring back that essence and spirit is great."

If nothing else, the movie does just that, transporting viewers to another place and time, where life can be simple and sweet and, dare we say, worth clicking your heels about.

"I like movies that give me an uplifting feeling, that make me want to dance on the way out of the theater," said Danny Laidman, of Beverly Hills, before seeing "Sleepless." His verdict after the movie? "I think I'd dance right up the aisle."

Rose Apodaca in Orange County and Cherie Saunders in the San Fernando Valley contributed to this report.

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