Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Chemistry Lesson

Heche and Ford shine but not the movie.

By Gary Susman

JUNE 15, 1998:  Six Days, Seven Nights is not likely to be remembered as the film that answered the question whether America would buy an openly lesbian actress as a straight romantic lead in a mainstream Hollywood movie. In fact, it's not likely to be remembered at all. It's a thoroughly pleasant and painless diversion that -- for all its star power, ostentatious production values, and pre-release controversy -- is utterly forgettable.

Directed by Ivan Reitman, with all the subtlety, nuance, and attention to character development that he brought to Ghostbusters I and II, this romantic comedy has a premise (if not the execution) that's classic screwball, pairing Harrison Ford as an intrepid regular joe (we're supposed to think Clark Gable) with Anne Heche as a fizzy Manhattan sophisticate (think Claudette Colbert or Carole Lombard). Ford's Quinn Harris is a rum-soaked charter pilot in the South Pacific; Heche's Robin Monroe is a workaholic editor at a glossy magazine (as in The Horse Whisperer it's the archetypal profession for high-strung women who need to be loosened up by weatherbeaten nature boys twice their age).

Robin's boyfriend, Frank (played by Friends nebbish David Schwimmer -- think Ralph Bellamy), whisks her off to an island resort for the title's week-long vacation. Scarcely has he popped the question, however, when Robin learns she must fly to Tahiti for half a day for an emergency photo shoot. (Don't you just hate it when that happens?) She hires Quinn and his puddle jumper, but a sudden squall sends the plane crashing into a beach on the proverbial desert island. Although she seems to have packed a Mrs. Howell-sized selection of increasingly skimpy outfits, and he seems to have a Tim Allen-sized selection of tools, their radio and landing gear remain broken beyond repair, making rescue or escape unlikely. As their survival skills are tested by hazards from water snakes to pirates, their mutual antipathy evolves into attraction. You know the drill.

A movie like this lives or dies on the leads' chemistry, which is why even Reitman wondered whether Heche, who is better known for being Ellen DeGeneres's squeeze than for any of the films she's starred in, could strike believable sparks with Ford. (A better question would have been whether the fiftysomething Ford could make a credible partner for the twentysomething Heche, but then again, he's a spring chicken compared to Robert Redford or Warren Beatty.) Anyway, no one need have worried. As the stranded city gal, Heche is perfectly adorable, brittle but tough, bossy but likable. She has proven herself a deft comedian in indie films from Walking and Talking to Wag the Dog, but here she really shines with pratfalls and rapid-fire delivery that would have done her screwball forebears proud. For his part, Ford, often stiff and dyspeptic in romantic comedies (notoriously so in Sabrina), seems more relaxed and easygoing than he has in years. He looks to be having fun, whether sparring with Heche or proving his mettle with Indiana Jones-worthy derring-do. Pairing Ford and Heche turns out to have been a surprisingly inspired idea.

Too bad Reitman and first-time screenwriter Michael Browning have marooned the couple in such a non-movie. The film is full of shots and sequences that evoke similar scenes from romantic-adventure classics like The African Queen, From Here to Eternity, and Butch Cassidy -- none of which Six Days can hold a candle to. To distract from the frequently witless dialogue and logic-defying plot, the filmmakers add a lot of noisy, absurdly fake-looking computer-generated spectacle, from that tropical storm to exploding shells. There's a tiresome subplot that has Frank tempted by Quinn's island bimbo (Jacqueline Obradors) while the authorities search for their loved ones, allowing Schwimmer's character to degenerate from a charming, romantic guy into a pathetic, Ross-like dweeb. And given Quinn's realistic assessment that he and Robin don't belong in each other's worlds, the movie falls apart in the end trying to keep Ford and Heche together. Viewers would enjoy seeing them together if only they could star in a movie that's as vivid as they are.

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