Having narrowly avoided a battle at the box office when it looked like both Notting Hill and Runaway Bride were going to open in the same month, Buena Vista must be hoping British cinemagoers are now ready for a second dose of Ms Roberts in rom-com mode. Like Notting Hill's relationship to Four Weddings And A Funeral, Runaway Bride is `inspired by', rather than a sequel to, Pretty Woman. But unlike the strong sense of déja vu that Notting Hill provoked, Runaway Bride is more likely to make you feel that you're being served a completely different dish rather than warmed-up leftovers.
This time round we have a couple who start off hating each other. There is no better basis for a romantic comedy, and it's more believable and less dodgy than the prostitute-punter relationship that featured in Pretty Woman. The combination of Maggie's aversion to marriage and Ike's desire for revenge results in a genuinely engaging story. Not only do we want to see the two characters get it together, but when they do, we still don't know if they will make it up the aisle.
Despite a sluggish start, it's clear when the two protagonists meet that this is a romance with legs. The big question was whether Gere and Roberts could re-ignite their on-screen chemistry 10 years after Pretty Woman. And, thankfully, they do, with the two stars creating the kind of sparks that Julia and Hugh clearly lacked in Notting Hill.
Director Garry Marshall also gives his leads better roles than before - - although Roberts' Maggie must be the world's most beautiful hardware store owner and Ike the last remaining journalist in the world to file copy from the stool of his local bar. Plus, as was the case with Pretty Woman, the pair enjoy sterling support from a slew of neatly observed friends and sidekicks. Worth singling out for a mention is Tom Hanks' missus Rita Wilson, taking the role of Ellie, Ike's ex-wife and ex-editor, who effortlessly steals the scenes she shares with Elizondo.
While Runaway Bride racks up the points on the romance side of things, it has to be said that it often falls short on the comedy front. Although there's no shortage of snappy one-liners (""Always the bridesmaid, never the bride" and "Wedding cake freezes - - this we know""), the real surprise is how Roberts lets herself be outshone by Gere.
While the years have certainly been harsh on the one-time American Gigolo's hair - - Marshall himself commented he could light Roberts sufficiently if she stood close enough to her leading man - - his unusually laid-back performance is easily his best in many years. In contrast, Roberts lacks both the beauty and vivacity that first bowled audiences over in Pretty Woman, trying too hard to get the laughs that should be naturally hers.