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director luis mandoki's last film was the superb , serious 1994 drama " when a man loves a woman , " but his luck has ultimately run out with his latest picture , " message in a bottle , " which is the worst type of romance , a movie that tugs so relentlessly and violently at the heartstrings that it miraculously manages to dry out your eyes rather than tear them up .
everything that occurs can be telegraphed way in advance since this same type of story has been done many times before---and much better---so there's an absence of suspense , and the film ultimately moves at such a very , very deliberate pace , as if it is trying to make great , " meaningful " statements and plot developments , that it just becomes a tedious bore to sit through .
" message in a bottle " begins with theresa osborne ( robin wright penn ) , a single mother and researcher at the chicago tribune , whom finds a bottle washed up on shore as she is jogging one day .
inside the bottle is an anonymous love letter addressed to a mystery woman named catherine , and theresa is so taken aback by its honesty and sweetness that she shows it around at her work and , to her objection , finds that her editor has placed the letter in the newspaper .
soon , a heavy research is conducted to find out who wrote the letter based on the type of bottle and a ship logo on the top of the typed message , and after it is traced to a man named garrett blake , theresa finds herself traveling to the outer banks , a boating town in north carolina , to find out the specifics of the message .
of course , garrett turns out to be a handsome , rugged man around theresa's age and played by kevin costner .
she is immediately charmed by him , but hesitant to unveil the truth of why she is there , and finds that catherine was garrett's late wife who died a few years earlier .
do you think you know where this is headed ?
most likely you do , and i wouldn't call it giving away anything to say that by the picture's end , the movie has fallen into deep , artificial melodrama that i didn't buy for a second .
if there are any positive things to say about " message in a bottle , " it is that the performances by robin wright penn and paul newman , as garrett's stubborn , but loving father , are far above par to be in such a wasteful , " shaggy dog " love story , and that the cinematography by caleb deschanel takes great advantage of the beautiful eastern coast , and paints chicago as an equally alluring city .
meanwhile , costner has yet to redeem himself for some of the less-than-stellar films that he has made recently .
it seems that with such bad luck , he wouldn't want to make another movie set near water , but here he is again with one of the main , and most ridiculous , centerpieces set on a storm-swept sea .
the other actors are all , sadly , wasted , including illeana douglas , an underused actress who seems to always get stuck with the " friend " roles , here playing penn's confidante and co-worker at the tribune .
the first half of " message in a bottle " plays like a hum-drum , trite television movie for the lifetime channel , as theresa spends a great deal of time " getting to know " garrett , with dialogue that is not the least bit stimulating or entertaining .
usually , i am the type of person to practically salivate over dialogue-laden sequences since the film is no doubt trying to develop the characters and their relationships , but here it all rang with a resounding falseness since the dialogue felt " written , " and not as if people were really " talking . "
when the main characters of a film have very little of interest to say to each other , and are not particularly interesting themselves , you know immediately that you are in trouble .
i swear that while watching " message in a bottle , " i felt as if i had just read the screenplay in its entirety before arriving at the theater ( heck , in actuality i'm not even familiar to the novel this is based on , by nicholas sparks ) .
always one step ahead of the characters , the movie ran so closely and tightly to the constraints of the tried-and-true hollywood melodrama , the film strip often seemed to almost be in danger of tearing .
nobody wins prizes for guessing that garrett will eventually find out theresa's secret , and that several obstacles will come within their ways of living happily ever after .
this same exact problem occurred in last year's very , very similar ( watch this , and you will realize just how similar i mean ) meg ryan-nicolas cage romantic drama , " city of angels . "
although theresa is deeply touched by the " heartfelt " letter that she finds in the bottle , perhaps the filmakers might have been better off finding a message in a bottle of their own , preferably before filming began .
it should have read , " memo to screenwriters : use you brain ! "