xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
This movie is the clearest case I've seen in a long time of the war between movie stars and the scripts they are given. The movie is a love story. The stars are Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep -- arguably the two most distinguished American movie actors under fifty. They have a genuine chemistry together on the screen and undeniable charisma. And that's it in this movie, which gives them not one memorable line of dialogue, not one inventive situation, not one moment when we don't groan at the startling array of clichés they have to march through.
"Falling in Love" is nothing if not upfront about its intentions. It wants to be a 1940s romance, and it makes that bountifully clear by making the first encounter between the characters a "Meet Cute." "Meet Cutes" are what Hollywood calls those clichéd scenes where Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant are both leaving Macy's at the same time; they run into each other, drop their packages, and bump heads as they awkwardly bend over to pick them up. Would you believe that is exactly how the "Meet Cute" works in this movie? De Niro and Streep are at a bookstore, not a department store, but as their packages drop, the movie almost could use a subtitle with the cross-reference to other films.
I'm sure there was some sort of story conference about how it would be fun to reprise a classic Meet Cute. I'm sure they had a lot of story conferences on this movie, giving one another pep talks about how the movie's total lack of substance was really a style decision. But it's just a cop-out. How can you put Streep and De Niro in a movie and not give them characters to play or interesting things to say? It's a waste of resources.
The movie's story involves two people who commute to New York on the same train. After their "Meet Cute," they are attracted to each other by instant chemistry. They meet again. There is a little awkward conversational jostling, and before long they're embarked on a chaste year-long affair in which they have lunch, go to Chinatown, visit tall buildings and trendy art galleries, and find mutual support while Streep's father dies. Art galleries and Chinatown are almost obligatory in movies like this. All true love affairs must begin with a mutual return to the infantile, as the lovestruck new partners buy hot dogs from vendors and watch the ice skating in Rockefeller Center and in other ways symbolically reenact the necessity of reliving their entire lives, from childhood on, in the company of this treasured new person.