Serendipity review

If implausibility and predictability were the marks of a very bad film, then Serendipity would stink. The plot hinges on outrageous coincidence/fate/divine providence (delete according to belief system), for when Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sara (Kate Beckinsale) first meet they exchange numbers in a most unconventional way. She writes hers in a book she intends to sell the following day and he jots his down on a $5 bill she promptly spends. The idea being that, if they ever get hold of said objects again, then they're meant to be together.

It's a shockingly linear story. For all the near misses between the leads, as they belt around New York, the outcome is never even vaguely in doubt. There's none of the delicious uncertainty of the similarly fate-themed Forces Of Nature, or the perceptive relationship dissection of High Fidelity.

But, after the debacle of Town & Country, Brit helmer Peter Chelsom goes some way to redeeming himself, his unfussy direction making the unlikely events just about palatable (although his predilection for time-lapse photography - - lots of time-lapse photography - - does become wearing). He also allows his cast room to build on the pedestrian material. With a lesser actor in the lead, this slush-fuelled tale of true love and destiny could have been unwatchable. But Marc Klein's script shows signs of tinkering. Certainly it's hard to imagine that Jonathan's threat to Eugene Levy's obstructive shop assistant - - ""Stop that or I will cut you"" - - was in the original screenplay. This and other remarks are stamped with the Cusack touch. The Teflon-cool star can take any run-of-the-mill rom-com and make it watchable. Even a movie like this, from the team responsible for She's All That, Pay It Forward and The Wedding Planner, becomes enjoyable with him in it.

The scenes between Cusack and Jeremy Piven as his best mate are particularly sparky, resonating an easy charm and chemistry that's testimony to the actors' real-life friendship. In fact, there's more love on display here than is ever evident in the exchanges with Beckinsale's Sara. The Pearl Harbor star may be beautiful and, to slip into Mills `n' Boon speak, "breathtakingly radiant", but she doesn't possess the acting nouse to flesh out her weak character. Bridget Moynahan impresses with much less screen time as Jonathan's fiance, proving so likeable that viewers are never allowed the easy option of just willing Jonathan and Sara together and damn the consequences.

These moments of emotional truth give Serendipity a slightly leftfield slant, stirring the Hollywood formula just enough to keep things interesting.

This is Cusack's movie. The Grosse Point Blank star is on autopilot, headlining another big studio flick for the money, but he adds enough trademark quirkiness to turn an ordinary X-mas slusher into something sweet, warm and funny.

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