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Organ Grinder: Andie MacDowell falls for a musician in 'Crush.'

Hot for Teacher

One wedding and two funerals dominate decayed chick flick 'Crush'

By Richard von Busack

TO A MAN with a life-long interest in women, it seems paradoxical that the chick flick should be so devoid of interest. Is it mainly that the common ones are about really uninteresting women?

Most women work so hard in a man's world that they don't have time to obsess over men the way women do in a chick flick. Men are flattered by the notion that women do nothing but fret over men's attention, and in that respect it's no surprise that men are behind so many of these kind of opuses, from David E. Kelley, who created poor dithering Ally McBeal, to John McKay, who directed the English import Crush.

One thing going for Crush is its setting, the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, a moneyed, summery part of England that the rich locals have fixed up like a petty version of Tuscany. Here lives a far-from-divine sisterhood of three middle-aged women: the police captain Janine (Imelda Staunton), the private-school headmistress Kate (Andie MacDowell) and the castrating stork of an ob-gyn Molly (the kinky-looking Anna Chancellor, who was in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the success of which got this half-thought-out film made). The three ladies meet for a weekly complaint session about men over a box of chocolates.

At the funeral for a colleague, Kate encounters a working-class church organist, who turns out to be a former pupil of hers. He's named Jed (Kenny Doughty, who was in Titus), and he's half her age. The two hustle off for a quick one in the car, and Kate soon finds herself obsessed with the young kid.

While it might be interesting (and has been) to show a woman in the clutches of a passion she can't control, Jed's intentions are honorable. He proposes to Kate, and she accepts. Janine and Molly are scandalized and jealous--"Have you been parading about with this pubescent?" Molly snipes. That's about as close to Noel Coward--or even Sex and the City--as the dialogue gets.

The film's been fluff, but now it turns nonsensical. It's clear that Kate's friends and Jed's friends know about the engagement, but Kate fears that the news will leak out to the town. To prove that the match is unsuitable, Molly decides to try to seduce Jed while Janine films it all on tape. Fortunately, Jed's out of the picture soon, due to a stroke of fate, and if you can't imagine what happens next, you weren't paying attention when the women were complaining about how they wanted a baby.

The best scene in Crush is a moment of Jed sitting at the keyboard with Kate beside him. He delivers a short speech and demonstration about music and how it can manipulate the mourners at a funeral. "I can make anyone cry," Jed boasts. The boy's only a part-time musician, but he's also the only one in the picture who has some kind of calling for his work.

Jed's speech is a telling moment, since he's not moved by the music but has a professional interest in music's effect on a crowd. In the same way, Crush doesn't seem made because of a fascination with women but because of a fascination with the problem of how to sell them a movie. You'll chortle when you hear those risqué double-entendres about Jed's "organ"!

MacDowell is one of the biggest bores in cinema right now. Trying to pinpoint the reason seems like mean pickiness--noting the way her nose goes pink as a rabbit's when she weeps onscreen, for instance, or that her shade of lipstick always seems too dark and dull, or that she doesn't know how to conceal those prominent front teeth. I know she's a great clotheshorse, but is this enough to make her a star?

These worries are what comes of studying an actress too hard, waiting for her to reveal some hidden depth. MacDowell always plays a mommy or a woman kept from being a mommy (as she did even as far back as Groundhog Day). Like Meg Ryan or Calista Flockhart, she's almost always waiting for a man, whereas Sigourney Weaver, Sandra Bullock or Julianne Moore have no worries in that department and thus are all unfit for the tiresome antics of a chick flick.

Crush (R; 111 min.), directed and written by John McKay, photographed by Henry Braham and starring Andie MacDowell, Imelda Staunton, Anna Chancellor and Kenny Doughty, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema, the Century 25 in San Jose and the CinéArts in Palo Alto.

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From the April 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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