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all right , all right , we get the point : despite all similarities to the best-selling story , speechless is * not * based on the romance between 1992 presidential campaign rivals james carville and mary matalin .
in fact , the script was in development well before 1992 .
still , the comparisons are inevitable , until one realizes a critical difference .
no , it's not that the speechless twosome are speech writers , not campaign managers ; it's that carville and matalin's story is actually interesting .
speechless is a limp , poorly structured would-be romantic comedy .
speechless is set during a new mexico senatorial campaign , where kevin vallick ( michael keaton ) and julia mann ( geena davis ) meet and get romantic one night when neither one can sleep .
what neither one realizes is that they are on opposite sides of the campaign : kevin is a sit-com writer brought in to punch up the republican candidate's speeches , while julia is the chief speech writer for the democratic candidate .
at first each one believes that the other has an ulterior motive for the relationship , but eventually they let down their guard and become closer .
but there are plent of obstacles in the way , including julia's stud-reporter fiance ( christopher reeve ) and a series of stunts which continue to prove that all's fair in love and politics .
the standard formula for a movie like speechless would have the two principles starting out as antagonists and realizing only at the end that they're crazy about each other .
screenwriter robert king completely subverts expectations by throwing kevin and julia into each other's arms in the first fifteen minutes , then developing the antagonism .
it's a noble attempt to shake things up , but unfortunately it just doesn't work .
part of the fun of watching sparring in a romantic comedy comes from recognizing the chemistry even before the characters do , but in speechless they already know they're attracted to each other , and we're left with waiting for the campaign to end so they'll admit that they love each other already .
there is such a herky-jerky feel to the constant bickering and making up that even king's sharp dialogue can't prevent speechless from becoming repetitive after about half an hour .
inconsistency is also the defining characteristic of the performances of geena davis and michael keaton , and with those performances most of their scenes together .
the problems begin with their initial courtship , which does virtually nothing to establish julia's character and merely establishes that kevin is a wise-ass .
davis is radiantly beautiful , and keaton is generally entertaining , but these characters are so plastic that nothing that happens to them seems to matter one bit .
in a couple of scenes , like a quiet moment sitting at a fountain , they actually achieve some measure of connection .
for the most part , however , they're just actors spouting lines .
you keep waiting for a little spark , and it never happens .
perhaps most disappointing is that king and director ron underwood completely waste their premise by removing all the punch from speechless's politics .
the setting seems perfect for a high- energy battle of the sexes with partisanship thrown into the mix , but that's never the tone that underwood is going for .
he wants a warm , fuzzy romance compatible with marc shaiman's flute-and-wind musical score , and the campaign which should have defined the conflict between kevin and julia fades into the background .
it might as well have been a story about rival grocers , and every single character is about as uninspired as he or she could possibly be .
i was about the only reviewer in the civilized world who seemed to enjoy robert king's previous screenplay , the dana carvey flop clean slate , so i had some hopes for speechless .
but while there is wit in the words , this is a script which was probably much better on paper .
on screen , it's still paper thin .