- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

It sounds as if it could be a box-office bonanza: a romantic comedy written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who has made such huge hits as “Clueless” and “Look Who’s Talking,” and starring Paul Rudd, who has been in recent megahits “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” and the always-in-demand Michelle Pfeiffer.

So why has I Could Never Be Your Woman (Genius Products and the Weinstein Co., $24.95) gone direct to DVD, with no theatrical release?

It’s certainly not because it’s a bad film. Though it might not attain the semiclassic status of “Clueless,” it’s a clever comedy with great performances that eclipses most of the cliched romcoms that have been released theatrically in the past year. Miss Pfeiffer, looking fabulous, stars as a 40-year-old television producer and single mother who falls for a 29-year-old actor (Mr. Rudd, exhibiting a great talent for physical comedy) who has just gotten a part on her show.

“You’re not even in your 30s,” Miss Pfeiffer complains when the two finally reveal their real ages to each other. “Well, neither are you,” he responds.

Test audiences responded very well to the film, Miss Heckerling says by telephone. It seems the intricacies of the Hollywood business machine kept it from finding a proper audience.

The film was financed by French producer and director Philippe Martinez. After the film was made, however, Mr. Martinez found that distributing his own films was more difficult than anticipated. He made a deal with MGM, but it soon collapsed. He already had sold the DVD rights, which made finding a new distributor difficult.

“I Could Never Be Your Woman” wasn’t the only film of his to suffer the direct-to-DVD fate.

Miss Heckerling seems unable even to bring herself to say his name. She’s disappointed, of course, watching her completed movie sit on the shelf for a couple of years. “Michelle is suddenly in the best movies,” she notes. “Paul Rudd is in ‘Knocked Up.’ Paul is a leading man.”

Miss Heckerling also is the director who discovered Saoirse Ronan, the child actress who made her debut in “Woman” and is up for an Oscar for “Atonement.” (On the rueful director’s DVD commentary, Miss Heckerling notes that when the talented youngster was asked if she could do an American accent, she asked, “What do you want, East Coast or West Coast?”)

Miss Heckerling, 53, says one of her biggest hits came close to suffering the same fate as “Woman,” with ego almost trumping money. “Look Who’s Talking” had been commissioned by Tristar. “Columbia takes over Tristar, and the people at Columbia have no interest in making the people at Tristar look good,” she explains. “They want to start their own slate. Even though ‘Look Who’s Talking’ had high scores, they put it on the shelf for a year. They only released it because John Travolta and Bruce Willis threatened to sue them.” The 1989 film went on to make $400 million around the world.

The writer-director originally had envisioned that film, in which Mr. Willis voices the thoughts of a baby, as a television show and was upset when somebody else successfully pitched it as a TV series afterward. She couldn’t even watch it. She did work on TV spinoffs of her two films “Clueless” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” however, which must have inspired the sharp satire of the TV world in “Woman.”

Her daughter proved a bigger muse. Like Miss Pfeiffer’s character, Miss Heckerling was a single mother. “You know how sometimes you think people are old souls? It seems like she’s been around longer,” she says of her daughter, Mollie Israel, who has appeared in her mother’s films. “Saoirse definitely captured that feeling.”

How did her daughter react to seeing a version of herself on the small screen? “That doesn’t really matter to her,” Miss Heckerling reports. “She knows she was pretty much the inspiration for ‘Look Who’s Talking.’ ”

At one point, Miss Ronan’s character begs her mother not to put part of her life in her show. “That was my own feeling,” the director says. “I don’t want to exploit my child, but she’s such a big part of my life.”

Other releases of note:

Rendition (New Line, $28.98) — Reese Witherspoon stars as an all-American sweetheart again, but this time in a darker film. She plays the American wife of an Egyptian-born, American-raised engineer who after a flight home is whisked away by the CIA, which sends him to an unnamed North African country, where he’s tortured in the hopes he’ll spill information on a suicide bombing.

This thriller is somewhat predictable, and the Americans are facile archetypes of good and evil. It’s worth watching, however, to see what South African director Gavin Hood does with the more nuanced and insightful part of the story, that involving the fundamentalists planning bombings in the unnamed country.

Margot at the Wedding (Paramount, $29.99) — Director Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to his acclaimed “The Squid and the Whale” didn’t get quite so many glowing reviews. An Eric Rohmer homage without the humor or the heft, “Margot” is at least one of those all-too-rare films that puts its focus squarely on its fortysomething female protagonists, played here by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Nicole Kidman. Miss Kidman is the title character, who returns to her childhood home to attend her sister’s wedding to the underachieving wannabe hipster played by Jack Black. The only extra is a conversation between Mr. Baumbach and Miss Leigh, who play husband and wife off the screen.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married (Lionsgate, $29.95) — What’s a Tyler Perry movie without its namesake and, moreover, Madea, the feisty, gun-totin’ grandma (embodied by Mr. Perry in drag) at the heart of all his hit plays and film adaptations?

Apparently, not much.

After straying from the formula with last year’s box-office flop, “Daddy’s Little Girls,” he was back on-screen in “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married.” Even without Madea, however, loyal Perry fans flocked to see their hero, vaulting his tale of decaying relationships and their resurrection to the top box-office spot in its opening week. (To date, its theatrical release has grossed more than $55 million.)

Out on DVD this week, the film (written, directed and adapted by Mr. Perry from his stage show of the same name) centers on four couples — played by a star-studded cast that includes Grammy-winning R&B; divas Janet Jackson and Jill Scott, “New York Undercover’s” Malik Yoba, Richard T. Jones (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) and “Dreamgirl’s” Sharon Leal — as they set out for a weeklong vacation in the picturesque Colorado Rockies. Soon the tranquil setting is rife with trouble as nasty arguments ensue, infidelities spring forth and long-hidden secrets are spilled. More fuel is added to the fire when a sexy temptress (Denise Buotte) enters the mix.

The disc includes a blooper reel, subtitles in English and Spanish and three featurettes: “The Music of ‘Married,’ ” “Reflections on Getting ‘Married’ ” and Miss Jackson’s “Janet Jackson: Return of an Icon.”

Robyn-Denise Yourse

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