Sometimes a big Hollywood production goes so wrong that the spectacle of its collapse is far more compelling than the screen story we’re watching. Random Hearts, a thick shroud of a movie starring Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas and directed by Sydney Pollack, has all the right big-ticket Hollywood credentials, and yet, almost from the get-go, it’s a dud. In a way, this is reassuring: It’s nice to know that the movie studios, with all their techno skills and demographic surveys and bottom lines, are still capable of screwing up so blatantly. Besides, if a film this misbegotten can come off the assembly line, maybe there’s a chance something really good can slip by, too.
Harrison Ford plays an internal-affairs cop in Washington, D.C., who goes by the name of Dutch. Kristin Scott Thomas is Kay Chandler, a Republican congresswoman from New Hampshire. When a plane bound for Miami crashes into Chesapeake Bay, Dutch’s wife and Kay’s husband – longtime lovers on their way to a tryst – are among the dead. For Dutch and Kay, who never crossed paths before, the discovery of the adultery is like a double whammy. With his good cop’s instincts, Dutch pieces together the puzzle, obsessively, while Kay, with an election coming up, doesn’t want to deal with the emotional fallout. Naturally, they end up attracted to each other. (Their initial meeting is like a depresso version of meeting cute.) The chemistry is standard yin and yang: Dutch is gruff and grievous; Kay is decorous and in denial. He’s a beer drinker; she sips vodka on the rocks. The only thing they seem to have in common is that neither was in a marriage that was ecstatic.
There’s a strong premise buried beneath the bathos: A man whose job is to ferret out the truth is deceived by a wife he can’t even mourn properly because he’s too caught up in his own rage. If only Pollack and screenwriter Kurt Luedtke, adapting Warren Adler’s 1984 novel, had jettisoned the cumbersome lovers-in-shock plot contrivance and focused instead on how Dutch is pulled apart and patched together. But then again, would we want to see such a film if Harrison Ford remained the center of it? As an actor, he’s heavy weather; he soldiers through this movie without the slightest fillip of grace or nuance. Ford used to have a rowdy, antic spark, back in his Star Wars-Indiana Jones period, but his idea of playing heroes these days, particularly lumpen heroes like Dutch, is to ratchet up the self-righteousness. He plays every emotion squarely and thuddingly, as if he were a heavyweight hitting the bag.
Scott Thomas doesn’t match up with him at all; she’s become so hyperrefined that practically any co-star she appears with now seems brutish by comparison. (Watching her opposite Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient was like seeing double; they deliquesced in unison.) Kay Chandler is supposed to be a politician of some repute, and yet she acts more like a library supervisor. The filmmakers work up the usual guff about the chicanery of the political process and the intrusiveness of the media – Pollack himself turns in a freewheeling cameo as Kay’s media consultant – but all this appears to be taking place on another planet from the one Kay is inhabiting. Scott Thomas doesn’t have the right comportment to play a Republican congresswoman; she’s patrician without the steel or the savvy. No wonder so many actors these days want to run for office. On the evidence of Random Hearts, it’s pretty easy work.