Serendipity (PG)

Review by Jack Foley

HURRAH for John Cusack! The actor is one of that rare breed who can transform the most wafer-thin material and make it compulsively watchable, as he did in movies such as Pushing Tin and this year's America's Sweethearts.

He is fast becoming the master of the quick-talking, angst-ridden, lovestruck American male (see also the far superior High Fidelity) and is unique in being able to appeal to the guys (who can identify with him) as well as the girls (who simply want to hug him).

Hence, it comes as little surprise to report that his latest movie, Serendipity, while hardly being a stretch for the talented performer, and which is pegged upon the flimsiest of plots, is tremendous fun for anyone seeking a great 'date' movie this Christmas.

Set during the festive season, the movie finds Cusack's Jonathan Trager accidentally bumping into Kate Beckinsale's Sara Thomas while on a shopping trip in the Big Apple and immediately striking it off. But far from seizing the moment, Sara decides to put fate to the test to see if they were really meant to be and the movie skips forward a few years to find out whether they will, even though both of them are now on the verge of marriage.

For Cusack, in particular, the dilemma is made all the more difficult because his bride-to-be, played by the beautiful Bridget Moynahan, seems too nice to be stood up, while Beckinsale's fiancee is equally smitten by the English beauty's charms.

But impending marriage does not prevent either of them from rushing foolishly around New York in a bid to tip fate's hand, even though all the signs are there in front of them.

Serendipity, as its premise suggests, is extremely lightweight fare. It plays strictly to formula, borrows from countless other romantic comedies and really does very little to make it special.

Yet it delights on so many levels largely because of Cusack and the talent he has around him. Whether explaining why being forced to choose between Moynahan and Beckinsale is like being asked to comment on whether Godfather II is better than the first one without having seen the original, or playing off his best friend, Dean (endearingly played by Jeremy Piven, of Grosse Point Blank fame), the star is on tip top form, while his spiralling predicament is nicely observed and occasionally touching.

Director Peter Chelsom also makes good use of his locations (New York has seldom seemed friendlier) and throws in some satisfying cameos, most notably from Eugene Levy, as a by-the-book sales assistant, to help keep things flowing nicely. At a crisp 90 minutes, the film does not outstay its welcome.

The more cynical viewer will no doubt scoff at the numerous 'coincidences' which litter the film or groan at the mere idea of the premise, but hopeless romantics will lap it up as eagerly as they would a glass of hot chocolate from the famous New York cafe in which the duo originally bond. It is, after all, the season to be merry and this will certainly put the required grin on your face.