- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

"Serendipity," which doesn't benefit in the slightest from serendipitous gratification, appears to be the first Christmas attraction of October but it seems unlikely to endure beyond Halloween. It's the latest feckless romantic comedy to try to make a case for people who trash their engagements and wedding dates, and it sacrifices a couple of genuinely likable performers, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale, on this particular altar of disgrace.
Screenwriter Marc Klein and director Peter Chelsom have the would-be enchanting and heartwarming mission of rekindling a love match that flickered during a brief encounter several years earlier (seven according to the characters, 10 according to the plot synopsis). Mr. Cusack's Jonathan Trager and Miss Beckinsale's Sara Thomas met while attracted by the same pair of cashmere gloves at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan. They spent the next few hours getting acquainted but parted on a whimsical note of uncertainty and fatalism.
Jonathan agreed to inscribe his name and number on a $5 bill. Sara reciprocated inside the cover of a copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel "Love in the Time of Cholera." The two agreed that those tokens discarded at random would be a sign of fate if they ever returned. Hedging this complication, the pair also trifled with fate in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where Sara kept a vigil on the 23rd floor, hoping Jonathan would intuit her location. Darned if he didn't guess right but take an elevator so slow that dear Sara lost heart and departed a split second before his arrival.
We resume this tentative and long-ago romance in the present, when Jonathan is about to marry a breathtaking Halley Buchanan (Bridget Moynahan) as another Christmas approaches. The site is the Waldorf-Astoria. Meanwhile, Sara, living in San Francisco, nears a similar day of reckoning with a goofy but affectionate and successful Swedish musician named Lars (John Corbett).
We learn, mainly through confidences shared with Jonathan's best friend, Dean (Jeremy Piven), and Sara's best friend, Eve (Molly Shannon), that the urge to trace the soul mate possibly mislaid at the Waldorf has waxed and waned over the years. To suit the convenience of the filmmakers, it flares up again to send Jonathan into a final, albeit dishonorable, frenzy to locate Sara, who succumbs to the same lingering, irresistible impulse on the west-to-east vector.
One can appreciate the situational cleverness of certain devices that oblige Jonathan and Sara to retrace the steps of years earlier, revisiting such sites as the Wollman skating rink in Central Park and a confectionary shop called Serendipity III while barely missing each other. In a securely funny context, their habitual bad timing might be a source of escalating amusment and suspense. The $5 bill and the Marquez volume are restored in arguably effective ways. At the same time, oversights are conspicuous, especially the failure to stage a reunion on the fateful 23rd floor of the Waldorf. New York is perhaps too rich in possibilities of this sort, and the filmmakers settle for Central Park under a fresh snowfall. The mutual, crisscrossing searches have become precious and harebrained enough by that point to profit from a fade-out.
Mr. Cusack and Mr. Piven share a whirlwind excursion to San Francisco that reveals how treacherous this kind of matchmaking can become: They end up peeping at a sexual encounter between Miss Beckinsale's sister (unknown to Jonathan) and the sister's boyfriend, jumping to the conclusion that they have blundered upon the elusive Sara in a private moment.
Nothing shames the filmmakers while they are stringing out their own love quest.
It's as if we have backpedaled 30 years to when "Love Story" got things notoriously wrong by claiming, "Love means never having to say you're sorry."
The lovelorn central characters in "Serendipity" aren't remotely lovable enough to compensate for their heartless and delusionary weaknesses.

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