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Options
(1988)

Director: Camilo Vila
Cast:
Matt Salinger, Joanna Pacula, John Kani


Way back in the eighteenth century, English poet William Cowper said something that I have taken to heart when it comes to many things in life. That something was, "Variety's the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour". I agree with that statement for a number of reasons. Life should be fun, for one thing, and doing the same old things over and over can be tiresome and unhealthy for the intellect. When it comes to watching movies, whether for this web site or in my private time, I watch all sorts of movies. However, I have to admit that there are certain movie genres where I don't dip my toe in all that often. Pornographic movies, for one thing, for reasons I don't think I have to explain. Another genre that I don't find myself exploring all that often are movies centered on romance. Part of the reason for that is that over the years I have kind of soured on the idea of romance in my private life, and I often don't like to see people succeeding where I have often failed. All the same, I can understand why the romantic movie genre has proved to be so popular with so many people around the world. There are a lot of other single people around the world, single people looking for romance, so watching a romantic movie can give them hope - if lonely people in a movie can find someone to love, maybe lonely viewers can as well. Also, there are plenty of people who are in relationships but are unhappy. Seeing people in movies finding true love can lift the spirits of these unhappy viewers and give them hope as well. But I am confident in thinking that another reason romantic movies appeal to people in or out of relationships is that most people are horny, and romantic movies, at least modern ones, often promise to have scenes with a lot of heavy breathing.

Although romantic movies are for the most part not my cup of tea, I will admit that over the years I have seen a few that I enjoyed. Breezy was a sweet and effective look at a romantic relationship between two people who were opposites in almost every way you could think of. And My First Mister also concerned itself with a kind of romance between two completely different people as well. So I am not completely closed to romantic movies - I just want to watch those that have an interesting twist to them. However, there is one kind of romantic movie that I am extremely sour towards, so sour towards that more often than not I make a great effort to make sure I don't have to watch them. And that kind of romantic movie is the romantic comedy. Apart from a small handful of exceptions (like There's Something About Mary), I hate romantic comedies. Why do I feel this way? Well, several reasons. The biggest reason is that in these movies, the characters are usually so incredibly stupid and irresponsible. For example, how many times has there been a romantic comedy where the desired party of the main character has a fiancÚ who is extremely crass? Why would someone be so stupid as to have a fiancÚ who has bad manners? If the desired party is that stupid, why would the main character be attracted to him or her? Another reason why I loathe romantic comedies is that more often than not they treat romance as a kind of joke. It may be just me, but I feel that romance, despite my limited luck with it in real life, is something that should be respected. Romance can be a beautiful thing, and seeing it mocked in a movie often leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.

In short, your typical romantic is more likely than not to greatly annoy me with its advertised premise. However, there are some romantic comedies that annoy me more Optionsthan usual in their attempt to add flash. One such flashed-up romantic comedy that annoys me more than usual is a romantic comedy involving royalty. Royal comedies with romance such as The Prince And Me and King Ralph are two examples. I dislike these movies because royalty is often portrayed to be really stupid and irresponsible. True, the British royal family every so often embarrasses itself, but that just makes me wish my country would leave the Commonwealth. So you can imagine that I was not looking forward to watching Options, a romantic comedy involving royalty. I chose to review it namely so I could rant about romantic comedies and hopefully push screenwriters reading this review to do much better. Here's the plot description from the back of the video box: "Donald Anderson (Salinger, Captain America) lives his life vicariously, negotiating to buy options on the life stories of the 'rich and famous' for television and film. Princess Nicole (Pacula, Heaven Before I Die) of Belgium is now studying gorillas in Africa, trying to escape the storm of scandalous publicity for which she was disowned. When Donald's boss wants to option her life story, Donald opts to stay at home. But, instead, he is thrown into the wilds of Africa, face to face with an enraged Princess (sic) shredding his contracts with a machete. Donald's deal is proclaimed dead until the 'royal pain' is kidnapped, and the African police are too busy poaching elephants to help. Now it's Donald to the rescue, and every star in Hollywood will be after his role!"

If you have watched your share of romantic comedies over the years, no doubt you know that your typical romantic comedy not only needs some key ingredients, but that these key ingredients need to be done well enough. One of these key ingredients is, of course, the principle characters who are paired up romantically. Are they sympathetic? Are they realistic? When it comes to the two principle characters in Options, the results are kind of a mixed bag. Let me start off with Salinger's character. Salinger's role is written to be kind of a wimp, and when it comes to this portion of the character, Salinger almost pulls it off. He shows some promise in the movie's early scenes, but eventually he stops being convincing. He's too tall, too masculine in his features to be convincing playing this kind of weakling character. Also cursing Salinger's valiant efforts is the fact that his character is often annoyingly stupid. For example, his character flies to Africa carrying just a briefcase, and wears a suit and tie when he goes deep into the countryside to meet the princess. As for the character of the princess, she is thankfully a more palatable character. Princess Nicole is thankfully an unshrieky character, being soft-spoken on a frequent basis and not the least bit annoying. The princess is also written to be an unspoiled character, devoting her life to the care of the local elephant tribe. She has made some mistakes in the past, but she has long since reformed. Not only is Princess Nicole written to be likable, this writing is complimented by Pacula's good performance in the role. Even when her character does something harsh like that ripping of the contracts with a machete, Pacula finds the right tone so that we in the audience remain on her side.

As you can see, when it comes to the romantic leads, Options has one good character and performance, while at the other end it has a problematic character and performance. With the male lead character not up to snuff, you have probably concluded that the movie's attempts to ignite romantic sparks is like having a flint, but a wet noodle instead of steel to strike the flint against. And you would be correct. The whole part of the movie concerning the romantic attraction that eventually builds between the two leads is extremely unsatisfying. Of course, we don't care whether or not a stupid character manages to find romance, but there are other problems with the evolving relationship - that is, if you can call it "evolving". Much of the movie has the two characters in various kinds of disagreements, leaving almost no room for the two characters to slowly get to know each other and eventually find themselves attracted to each other. When they eventually do lock lips, it seems to come right out of the blue, and simply doesn't feel right. I quickly got tired of the artificial feeling of this so-called romance, and I started desperately looking for other characters in the movie who were acting more believably. But there wasn't much in this area to be found. The chief kidnapper and ex-husband of Princess Nicole, played by Danny Keogh (Operation Delta Force 3), has so little screen time that he doesn't feel the least bit of a threat to anybody. Other characters pop up here and there for eqaully brief amounts of time, and don't make much of an impression. The only supporting character who stands out is the character of Jonas (John Kani, A Dry White Season), Princess Nicole's assistant. Actor Kani manages to give this almost throwaway character a great deal of dignity with his performance, so you remain interested whenever his character shows up, despite this character not getting to do that much that's important.

I've dealt with the romantic part of Options, but I haven't really got to the comedy portion. Sadly, the comedy found in the movie is just as dismal as the romance. The movie wastes a lot of opportunity to generate laughs, for one thing. The opening of the movie, set in the movie making portion of Hollywood, could have been a savage satire of (among other things) the whole business of movie studios buying the rights to various people's stories. But the screenplay doesn't seem to see the amusing side of this true practice. When the movie moves to Africa, the gags that are trotted out have a real deja vu feeling to them, ranging from crazy safari guides to when the hero sips a drink of something he finds tasty but turns out to be made from disgusting ingredients. But a bigger problem is that much of the movie doesn't even try to be funny, instead playing it straight or feebly adding an extremely light comic tone to what is happening. A movie like this should have been more zany, done with more gusto. I guess a lot of blame for this lack of spirit has to fall on the shoulders of director Camilo Vila (The Unholy). He doesn't just screw up with the movie's tone. While most of the movie was actually shot in Africa, Vila more often than not doesn't find nice looking locations, making much of the movie look like it was shot in the southern part of California. Some portions of the storytelling are also garbled, like when Salinger's character initially returns to Hollywood after unsuccessfully signing on the princess and is then returned to Africa after she's kidnapped.... to do what? The reason for his return is never clearly explained. As you can probably see by now, this movie has very little to offer in the way of entertainment. If you are in the mood for laughs and/or romance, there are better options than Options.

(Posted August 22, 2016)

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Breezy, My First Mister, Taking The Heat

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