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Heart Attack

By doug levy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 4, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Ryan Phillippe and Angelina Jolie discuss the geographies of their respective hairstyles in "Playing by Heart."

Sappy, sappy, sappy.

Snappy, but still, sappy.

What else could you expect from "Playing By Heart," a film which makes no attempt to disguise its identity or its motives in tugging at your heart? It's supposed to make you feel good about love, right? It's supposed to make you value what you have, realize how much there is to life and how, petty as we often are, it just isn't worth it.

At this point, let's continue with a few select song lyrics:

"Baby, baby, where did our love go?"

"Tell me does she love you, like the way I love you?"

"Till now, I always got by on my own/I never really cared until I met you..."

"Two worlds collided, and they can never tear us apart..."

See, "Playing By Heart" is like a love song given the filmic treatment - four love songs, actually, some much more appealing than others. We're dealing with four different couples here, so the story cuts around, among, and between them as the movie progresses. And there's a little catch, too: everyone is tied together somehow, and if you figure it out before the end of the movie... well, then, you're really cool or something. (And if that kind of thing gets you off, now you have the added bonus of matching my selected song lyrics to the appropriate couple from the film. Bonus points for naming the artist and title for each song, of course. Figure out the albums they're from and the dates of their releases, and you officially have too much time on your hands.)

Couple number one is Gillian Anderson and Jon Stewart. Will they get together? Can the shell around the jaded woman be broken? Is it worth it for Jon Stewart?

And just who is the mysterious cigarette-smoking man?

This segment would have been a lot more fun if they let Scully keep her gun, but she still gets props for having the largest dog ever seen on screen. As for Stewart, he's seeing a bit of a comeback these days, and there could be reason for that, but his mildly entertaining presence here doesn't quite make up for the fact that he agreed to appear in "The Faculty."

Couple number two: Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe. These two people are extremely attractive. They're really a treat to look at. Jolie's performance would have been the most appealing in the film, too, if it weren't for Dennis Quaid (see couple number three). The only problem is that the way their romance develops is about as likely as, well, Romeo and Juliet. Go ahead, tell me that two complete strangers can fall in love after a couple of superficial conversations all you want - I ain't buying. There's a four-letter word for that, and it isn't "love."

Batting third are Dennis Quaid and his less-than-faithful on-screen spouse, one of two married couples to grace the screen. Quaid, in a word, is brilliant. The initial impact of the movie, which is actually quite strong, comes entirely from his performance. It's a big disappointment he couldn't have been given more screen time, but it makes you realize we need to see more of this man in the movies today.

Sean Connery makes up one half of couple number four (that's married couple number two, if you're keeping track), two older folks who have some issues of their own to deal with. Of course, he's captivating, as usual, but hey, he's Sean Connery. That, unfortunately, does not mean he automatically makes a movie great. ("Avengers," anyone?)

Unfortunately, as you can see, we're dealing with a lot of people here; plot elements are split up so that we can jump around, and just when you become engaged in one aspect of the story, you're somewhere else. Too much screen time is given to unimportant things, not enough to some that could use development. There's a guy dying of AIDS, too, with his mother sitting next to his bed. How does this play into things? Well, it really doesn't, except in a totally tangential way. But it makes you cry. It is the most obviously manipulative element of a movie that was designed to elicit an emotional reaction through superficial means.

Basically, it's all quite a hodgepodge in the end, and the little figure-out-the-connections game it makes you play in your head (with clues that are as obvious as a landshark in a room full of puppies) just distracts you from what's actually going on a lot of the time. But perhaps that's intentional, because if you pay too much attention, you'll realize there's a lot missing here in terms of depth.

What you walk away with is a desire to see Dennis Quaid's character given the proper feature-length film of its own that it deserves, a knowledge that Angelina Jolie could be the next Teri Hatcher (whatever that means), the clear fact that Gillian Anderson needs a much more daring role to break free of typecasting and the undeniable truth that Sean Connery will never not look cool.

If you want to understand how relationships truly work, though, you may have to look a bit further than "Playing By Heart." It's a movie that simplifies love too much, that provides easy, but irrational, answers to impossible questions and takes a little too much for granted.