Youíve Got Mail Ė and Youíre Read It Before

OK, stay with me. Youíve Got Mail is a re-tread of a 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, but really, it is a re-hash of 1993 hit, Sleepless in Seattle, which was a re-work of 1957ís An Affair to Remember, a film previously lensed in 1939 as Love Affair. So many generations away from originality, itís a wonder this movie isnít a big gray blur!

Youíve Got Mail is a full-color checklist of what made Sleepless box office boffo. Same director and co-screenwriter, Nora Ephron, updates a beloved romance. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan reprise their roles as inevitable lovers, linked, yet distanced by, technology (talk radio in Sleepless, here itís the internet.) Add big shaggy dogs, step-families, precocious children, a banal oldies soundtrack and resolution at a New York City landmark. Ta da! If you adored Sleepless in Seattle, you will like Youíve Got Mail. (Note: "like.") Itís a shameless bid for your cash. Hollywood marketers reckon viewers will pony up for the Hanks-Ryan star-crossed love juggernaut all over again.

Movie goers may be wooed by cute, even placated, but Youíve Got Mail is very lite fare, a romantic comedy with little suspense or clever execution. Kathleen Kelly (Ryan) and Joe Fox (Hanks) are anonymous soul mates on-line, but dislike each other in the corporal world. Gosh, will they ever get together?!

The e-mail narrative gambit makes for a lousy visual. Whatís so gripping about watching somebody type, while their words are spoken out loud? To fill the void, Hanks and Ryan invent new cinema, "e-mail faces" - a collection of shrugs, grimaces, furrowed brows, cocked heads and pursed lips, delivered with the finesse of a Rent-A-Clown. The tedious on-screen e-mail time does deliver a whopping great plug for America Online (Come home, all is forgiven!) Other placement benefactors include Starbucks (Kathleen goes on TV to decry the mallification of old New York, but makes several on-screen stops at Starbucks.), Zabarís, IBM and Macintosh, VISA and Manhattanís Upper West Side, which is presented here as some sort of affluent bibliophile paradise, awash in fine linens, frisky wines, distressed antiques and warm brioche, wholly removed from reality, or even Midtown.

A sub-plot about gigantic chain bookstores initially appears promising. See, Fox builds Ďem, and heís just opened one around the corner from Kathleenís bookstore, a neighborhood fixture specializing in good childrenís books. Gasp! But, after more than an hour setting up this plot, it trickles away. (The set design for Fox Books is marvelous -- a multi-leveled, richly detailed book emporium, incorporating features of the Guggenheim, MSNBC set, Starbucks and chain bookstores that begin with the letter "B.")

Nora Ephron can be a funny writer, but the writing here ranges from dusty cybersex jokes to overwritten musings about butterflies on the subway. She also wastes a fine supporting cast - Parker Posey, Greg Kinnear, Jean Stapleton, Dabney Coleman, and Dave Chapelle - in Johnny-One-Note roles. Poor Stapleton, a comic and dramatic actress of some note, is given sales figures to read in gloomy tones.

This film is so lazily scripted it even left out a standard romantic comedy convention: The Thwarter, usually a fiancee or some other third party who makes an awkward triangle and throws up a roadblock to true love. Itís just full-speed ahead here for our two cyber-love-birds, and therein lies a big flaw. With little plot, no suspense and weak repartee, Hanks and Ryan carry the movie solely on their standard screen personalities. Thatíll sell tickets, but at these prices, a little snap and story is expected.

Rated PG for a couple of mild profanities.

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