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by: Michael Dequina

The screen pairing of macho action star Bruce Willis and serious actress Michelle Pfeiffer appears to be an odd one, and it is the tale of their surprising electricity together that is the only story worth telling from The Story of Us--certainly not the messy contrivances of this wannabe weepie romantic comedy-drama.

Director Rob Reiner is a proven hand at romantic comedy, as seen in The American President and, most famously, When Harry Met Sally.... The shadow of the latter looms large over The Story of Us, but it's not because their stories bear any resemblance. The "us" whose story is told is Ben and Katie Jordan (Willis and Pfeiffer), who, after 15 years of marriage, discover that life is far from blissful. The film's fragmented time structure reflects the couple's state of mind as they look back on their union: the good times and the not-so-good ones that led them to ponder a breakup.

With these flashbacks ranging from short to long and occurring at the drop of a hat, The Story of Us is already a mess without a needless enhancement that Reiner and scripters Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson somehow felt the need to include: every so often, Ben and Katie are separately shown sitting on a sofa, bearing their souls directly to the camera. It's not quite as annoying as the throwaway interview segments with old couples that Reiner cut into When Harry Met Sally..., but it has the same obtrusive, distracting effect. I'm not a terribly big fan of voiceovers, but if their internal comments were simply heard and not seen, the film would flow a bit more smoothly.

And one wonders why the Jordans' marriage hasn't gone so smoothly. The audience isn't given a clear idea exactly why things go bad other than some vague suspicion on Katie's part that Ben is having an affair. There are also a number of brief bits showing the two angrily yelling at each other, and Willis and Pfeiffer play the angry scenes for what they're worth, but those passages aren't terribly convincing because one usually doesn't know why exactly what leads to each incident. The cozier scenes, which comfortably showcase the two stars' unforced rapport, are more believable, and as such, the film is heavily skewed toward their happy times and leaves little suspense as to how things turn out.

Willis and Pfeiffer are ably supported by the likes of Rita Wilson, Paul Reiser, and Reiner himself; the standout is Wilson, who gets most of the film's too few good laugh lines. And that pretty much says all that there needs to be said about The Story of Us: a collection of performances that are more than the creaky material deserves.

RATING: ** 1/2 (out of *****)


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