- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

Any producer guilty of rejecting actresses older than 40 for lead roles should be forced to watch Andie MacDowell in the May-December romance "Crush." The 43-year-old actress gives a performance as steamy and satisfying as a late-summer downpour, but ultimately, it can't wash away the movie's acrid aftertaste.
The former model's career path has seesawed from "sex, lies and videotape" to "Muppets in Space," but her lovely turn here brightens a disappointing debut by writer-director John McKay.
The film, a wannabe charmer with an independent pedigree, cruises on Miss MacDowell's sly star power and the kind of delicious dialogue rarely heard in mainstream romantic comedies.
All of this makes the third act's Enron-scale collapse all the gloomier.
Mr. McKay's precious love story buckles under a melodramatic switch late in the game. The clumsy set piece is compounded by an even more preposterous conclusion, a "girl-power" wrinkle that reeks of studio interference. It's hardly the outcome one expects in a frothy independent film.
"Crush"'s Kate (Miss MacDowell), an American expatriate and headmistress of a tony British school, meets regularly with her two best gal pals to commiserate over their love lives.
Fellow fortysomethings Janine (Imelda Staunton) and Molly (Anna Chancellor, who also starred in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," which this film's tone hopes to emulate) derive plenty of glee from skewering one another's would-be beaus. They retreat to their comforting circle each week to lick their emotional wounds.
"Sex and the City"'s heroines having nothing on this tart trio, who gulp drinks and chocolates with abandon.
Their cathartic schedule hits a snag when Kate has a chance encounter with a former student (Kenny Doughty), a brooding church organist whose music makes parishioners weep.
The pair enjoy a reckless romp in the proverbial bushes. Kate considers their ardor a one-time event, a bright, if embarrassing, spot on her otherwise mundane love life. That carnal episode leads to another, though, and Kate soon finds herself smitten with her youthful lover.
Her friends aren't, to put it mildly. Call it jealousy, call it common sense, but the pair set to scheming, hoping to throw cold water over Kate's newfound fling.
So far, so good. Miss MacDowell's innocent romance gathers steam, emboldened by the actress' softly modulated performance.
When her friends' Machiavellian moves turn to malice, "Crush" grinds to an immutable halt. What happens next sends the film off in unwanted directions. An otherwise charming yarn becomes an exercise in cinematic frustration.
Mr. Doughty, a relative newcomer, makes a compelling love interest, neither idealized nor sugarcoated. Sure, he packs the requisite taut physique and toussled 'do, but he also cares deeply for Kate and doesn't retreat from societal conventions that say their passion cannot linger.
In one telling moment, he appears at the door bedecked only in a small towel to greet Kate's friends for the first time.
His youthful arrogance, or lack of good bearing, makes the awkward introduction even clumsier. Yet his immaturity cannot dampen the other, more truthful signs of his character that Mr. McKay outlines in bold strokes.
As the bewildered friends, Miss Staunton and Miss Chancellor lend able support, with the latter's transformation from sardonic pal to unmitigated harpy all too convincing.
Besides the wasted performances, Mr. McKay's lack of conviction leaves audiences with an unscratchable itch about the questions his film so slavishly raises.
To watch "Crush" is to sense that Mr. McKay has something powerful to say about love in its many confusing guises.Ifyougo:
By the final reel, it's clear the snowcap- encrusted rug has been pulled out from under the audience.
Miss MacDowell deserves better. Mr. McKay displays enough storytelling talent through much of "Crush" to predict that his sophomore effort will give its leads more respect and a better payoff.

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