There's a joke to be made here about friends in low places, but let's first examine the evidence: a film comedy about a woman in her 20s who just can't find the right man (one demerit, triteness). A woman with a strong sense of her own individuality and integrity who goes into the advertising business (two demerits, illogic). A woman who is supposed to be smart, savvy, sassy, but can't find a dress that fits over her already obvious abundant-ness (three demerits, acreage).
But "Picture Perfect" has its moments, even if they have to fight to get our attention. The centerpiece is Jennifer Aniston, the "Friends" star and fledgling film actress who brings unconventional sexiness and no particularly comedic gifts to the role of Kate Mosley. She is, however, surrounded by talented supporting players, including Kevin Dunn, Faith Prince and Illeana Douglas, a Joan Blondell for the '90s, whose Darcy O'Neal gets Kate in trouble to begin with.
Actually, she's in trouble already. Her career at Mercer Advertising is on the slow track, thanks to her lack of personal commitments (mortgage, kids, etc.; the boss, played by Dunn, doesn't want his people to be too mobile). And because she dresses like the Artist Formerly Known as Princess. Even though she's come up with the winning slogan for a multimillion-dollar mustard account--a well-known brown substance spread so thickly over this film it doesn't need to be mentioned here--she is cut out of the actual campaign, until Darcy invents a fiance: wedding photographer Nick, played by "Jerry Maguire" villain Jay Mohr. Kate suddenly has the proper Mercer profile.
She also, suddenly, becomes very attractive to the office hunk-heel, Sam Mayfair (Kevin Bacon, the movie's biggest stretch), who's only interested because she's unavailable; that Kate never quite gets this is one of the movie's bigger potholes. They go to bed (a safe-sex sequence at the beginning of the movie apparently covers all subsequent bed-hopping), and she's smitten. So is he. So is Nick. It gets complicated. Or tiresome. It all depends on whether you've ever seen a romantic comedy before.
Without charting the actual troop movements within "Picture Perfect," Kate gets herself in hot water, and is in general an unsympathetic character. As such, she joins Julia Roberts ("My Best Friend's Wedding") and Meg Ryan ("Addicted to Love") in this summer's most peculiar development, the rise of the morally bankrupt screen heroine. They do things that are despicable, but we cheer for them anyway, because they're pretty and we've been trained so well. Just give us a tin cup and an organ grinder. We'll be set for life.
Director-co-writer Glenn Gordon Caron--onetime writer of the Bruce Willis-Cybill Shepherd series "Moonlighting" and the director of the infamously nutty "Wilder Napalm"--takes a few chances, such as having his characters make fun of the movie's own jokes. This is grace under pressure. Olympia Dukakis, playing Kate's oppressive matchmaking mother, makes periodic appearances complaining about the men Kate's not marrying ("He's gay, Ma!" "So?").
The product placement is astounding, and Carter Burwell, composer, shouldn't have scored the movie's emotional climax with James Newton Howard's music from "Dave." It only serves to remind one of better movies, at a time when one needs no reminders.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for sensuality and related dialogue. Times guidelines: Adult situations, sex and vulgarity make the PG-13 rating a requirement. Not appropriate for children whether or not they watch "Friends" on TV.
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Jennifer Aniston: Kate
Jay Mohr: Nick
Kevin Bacon: Sam
Olympia Dukakis: Rita
Illeana Douglas: Darcy
A 3 Arts production, released by 20th Century Fox. Director Glenn Gordon Caron. Producer Erwin Stoff. Screenplay by Arleen Sorkin & Paul Slansky and Glenn Gordon Caron, based on a story by Arleen Sorkin & Paul Slansky & May Quigley. Cinematographer Paul Sarossy. Editor Robert Reitano. Costumes Jane Robinson. Music Carter Burwell. Production design Larry Fulton. Art director John Wright Stevens. Set decorator Debra Schutt. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.