Cinema Signal:

. "Serendipity"

This year's date movie, the point of "Serendipity" is not to avoid familiar cliches and totally predictable outcomes but rather to provide a vehicle for romance, love and a couple of attractive movie stars. In such sentimental products, one only hopes that the pairing offered is not itself overfamiliar, and here we have a positive note. While we may have seen John Cusack in somewhat similar circumstances before, the newer actor on the scene, Kate Beckinsale, has been destined for this kind of star-making effort. With her looks and personality one can only imagine that there was a line up of very willing male actors to act beside her.

The title says it all. The cute meet between Jonathan Trager (Cusack) and Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) is not only serendipity itself (fortunate discovery by accident) but takes place in a store called "Serendipity". Please. Like maybe we wouldn't get the point?

Both not only have other halves but both are engaged to be married. Is this a parallel universe or what? But, they clearly like each other and while Trager is more than willing to give a second love a chance, Thomas plays with the issue of destiny. They laugh, they kid, they have chemistry to burn, yet she leaves him without even her name. She will live to regret it.

Marking out a middle section for the script to operate, she has him write his name and number on a five dollar bill and, without glancing at it, puts it into circulation. She then writes her name and number in a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel, "Love in the Time of Cholera" and, later, sells it to an unnamed bookstore. Boy, does this lady like to live dangerously. The idea, of course, is that if either the bill or the book get into the hands of the other, their destiny together will override all other romances in their lives. And, she's a psychotherapist yet.

Want to guess how it turns out? Well, if you're truly interested, seeing the movie is the thing to do because you're obviously a romantic and can't get enough of this stuff. Those with an edgier streak might be better pleased to wait for the DVD or cable release. The rest of us will be content to stick with our guess, which is destined to be correct.

Kate Beckinsale proves a more than worthy romantic ideal for the role, coming off the unsuccessful "Pearl Harbor" and the even less successful "The Golden Bowl". Not to worry for this little lady, in any event. After years of not quite making us remember her name (did you know she was the other girl in "The Last Days of Disco", 1998, opposite Chloe Sevigny?) someone is now trying very hard to make a star out of her and this film might do it. If it doesn't, it will be through no fault of hers and her agent is probably inundated with script offers. Yes, she can certainly do romance.

Cusack has his charms, as well, and the only difference here is that he's established his in a much longer line of work. He doesn't do his career any harm in taking this kind of romantic leading man role but there was a time his keen taste in challenging material shone more brightly, as in the classic, "The Grifters" (1990). Such opportunities for incisiveness and intelligence seem to be escaping him of late, though he doesn't fail to hold up his end very well every time out, as in the recent "America's Sweethearts".

In real life Jeremy Piven is Cusack's close buddy and here, that naturally close relationship plays well with him as Trager's sidekick, confidante and chief supporter, Dean Kansky. He gives loyalty a good name.

In any case, the universe might not be parallel but this story is told in its own parallel dimensions where coincidence and dramatic control flourish. See it if romantic fantasy pleases you enough to overlook strict plausibility. It's made for you.

Estimated cost: $28,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $50,000,000.

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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