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While Ed Harris' raw sexual appeal might seem irresistible, still skip The Face of Love

Right on the heels of Enemy, a film that used the plot device of doppelgangers so brilliantly, comes The Face of Love, a movie that starts with an interesting premise but ultimately goes nowhere.

Annette Bening, an actress who is usually luminous, seems utterly lost in the central role of Nikki, a widow who meets a man named Tom (Ed Harris) five years after her husband, Garrett (also played by Ed Harris), has died. Yes, Tom looks exactly like her late husband so, naturally, she is drawn to him.

Director and co-writer Arie Posin has an interesting opportunity here, but he blows it. He can't seem to decide if his movie is a sad meditation on lost love and one's ability to move on, or a really warped Twilight Zone episode. The movie feels like it was made for dummies, playing it safe and spoiling any shot at ingenuity.

Nikki basically stalks Tom after spying him at an art museum, a place she used to frequent with her husband, and soon finds herself in a relationship with him. Tom has no idea that he is Garrett's exact double, and he's taken by what feels like instant love between them. The affair comes off as uncomfortable and creepy because the movie plays this whole "identical double" crazy premise straight to the end.

Perhaps the film could've been interesting if Tom were a figment of Nikki's mournful imagination, or somebody who only looks like Garrett through her eyes. Posin even seems to be playing with these ambiguous notions at times, not allowing Nikki's daughter (Jess Weixler) or friend and neighbor Roger (Robin Williams) to interact on screen with Tom. At times, the whole thing seems to be coming off as a twisted fantasy.

Then, the movie just cops out, with both of these characters seeing Tom, and the daughter freaks out because of the fatherly resemblance. The idea that an exact double lives in the same city with Nikki is improbable, even ludicrous, yet the screenplay and Posin's direction clearly makes this the film's reality. It feels mighty contrived and forced.

When I say Bening seems lost, I am well aware that she is playing a "lost" character. There's a difference between playing lost and giving a lost, uncommitted performance. Too many of Bening's lines are delivered as if she has no idea what her motivation is or where the story is going. It just comes off weird, as if she simply doesn't care about keeping the character real in spots.

As for Harris, his performance qualifies as the film's best overall. Tom is dealing with his own sense of loss, having been divorced for more than a decade. He remains friends with his ex (Amy Brenneman) but has failed to completely let go. Harris does sublime work here, portraying a man who wants to believe he's special to somebody new.

Where the film truly drops the ball is in dealing with Tom's reaction to basically being used for his looks. The movie hopscotches over this issue completely and drives toward an ending that feels like a complete cheat.

The movie's single-best dramatic moment belongs to Williams. When Roger finds out that Nikki has met someone, he has a moment of snippy jealously that Williams plays perfectly. His delivery of this moment cuts through the malaise that generally covers most of the picture, and it feels like an honest, committed actor's moment. This is something lacking from most of Bening's performance.

The film is all over the map tonally, shifting from delusional fantasy to pathetic reality. What Posin tries to get us to swallow in the end is a shoddy premise with an aloof and often flat delivery. It's a shame because there's a wealth of talent involved in this movie. The characters simply don't have a definitive place to go.

The final scenes actually feel tacked on, as if somebody wasn't happy with a mysterious ending and demanded a more concrete one. The film's final moments seem to be portraying Nikki's journey as triumphant, with her relationship with Tom being a necessary step in her ability to move on and live life to the fullest in the wake of her husband's death.

The Face of Love lacks the sort of focus to earn a triumphant ending for Nikki. She comes off as a real kook, and I'm thinking that wasn't the vibe the director was shooting for when he delivered his final cut.

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