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by: James Berardinelli

Forces of Nature is a more clever motion picture than the ad campaign gives it credit for. The posters and trailers play up the Ben Affleck/Sandra Bullock romance, but that's only one aspect of a film that has broader comic designs than those defined by traditional romantic comedy constraints. In fact, while Forces of Nature contains something of the love story dynamic from My Best Friend's Wedding, its closest recent antecedents are two road pictures: John Hughes' Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing. And, although Forces of Nature isn't as laugh-aloud funny as the Steve Martin/John Candy picture, it's a solid enough effort to stand on its own in the minefield of Murphy's Law-inspired movies.

Murphy's Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and that's exactly what happens to Ben Holmes (Affleck) with the approach of his wedding day. Ben, who earns his living by writing blurbs for book jackets, and his fiancé, Bridget (Maura Tierney), live in New York City, but the big event is being conducted in Savannah, Georgia. So, a couple days before he's due to tie the knot, Ben, who's terrified of flying, reluctantly boards a southern-bound plane at JFK. Shortly thereafter, the plane has crashed (actually, it never gets off the ground), and Ben is trying to find an alternative means of transportation to Savannah. Coming to his rescue is Sarah (Sandra Bullock), an attractive freespirit he helped during the crash. She gets them both a ride in a rental car with a guy named Vic. It's only the first of many segments of a wild and unpredictable trip down the East Coast that includes planes, trains, and automobiles. Along the way, Ben starts to fall for Sarah, and is forced to examine whether he really wants to marry Bridget after all.

Affleck and Bullock share an effective chemistry that enhances their scenes. Although Forces of Nature isn't really about sex - it's more about love, romance, and taking chances - there's an element of eroticism in Ben and Sarah's interaction, and it's never overplayed. With his "everyday guy" demeanor, Affleck is as appealing as usual. Bullock, following a series of ill-advised career choices (the latest of which were Hope Floats and Practical Magic), is back in top form. Director Bronwen Hughes (Harriet the Spy) uses the camera to highlight Ben's growing infatuation with Sarah. The stronger his feelings become, the longer the camera lingers on her features. Glances turn into protracted, intense looks. One reason these two work so well together is because the characters' relationship is based more on camaraderie than mere sexual attraction.

Affleck also connects with his other female co-star, Maura Tierney, in a palpable way, which makes it difficult to determine which lovely lady Ben will finish the film with. Because Affleck and Bullock spend the lion's share of the screen time in each other's company, it's only natural to root for them to end up together. On the other hand, there's a sense of genuine affection and tenderness between Ben and Bridget. This conflict heightens the limited dramatic aspect of Forces of Nature. There's a realization that, no matter what happens, someone is going to get hurt - if only a little bit.

In many ways, the romance is just a backdrop for a series of crazy misadventures. While Forces of Nature doesn't go for the all-out zaniness of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (there are no pillows), the 1986 film is clearly an inspiration. During the course of their trek, Ben and Sarah are arrested, end up on a train going in the wrong direction, lose all their money (a necessary plot device), masquerade as a rich, married couple, are chased by the police, and are waylaid by a hurricane. Towards the end of the trip, as the couple watches a building go up in flames, Ben jokes, "Let's just sit here a


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