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On this day he got up, walked to the train station, and took the next train, which happened to be going to Lake Forest. On his honeymoon, the Baldwin character begins to realize something has gone wrong.

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His bride looks the same, but she isn't the same. There are subtle clues in her behavior. Things she wouldn't ordinarily say. Eventually Baldwin realizes that someone else is inside her. She is not the woman he married. All of this will be familiar to people who have seen the play by Craig Lucas , who based this screenplay on it. It's a gimmick, all right, but an interesting one, because it's the setup for some unusually thoughtful movie dialogue, and a final scene of genuine emotional power.

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I won't reveal the scene. Of the dialogue, I'll say how unusual it is for Hollywood characters to talk longingly and thoughtfully about our search for happiness in this world where most assuredly we will die. Baldwin finds all the right notes in his performance, from Yuppie barfly to guy in love to a man faced with a large metaphysical embarrassment on his honeymoon. Meg Ryan is subtle in the way she signals that perhaps she is occupied by another personality. There are small but splendid moments involving her parents Ned Beatty and Patty Duke. But the emotional heart of the movie belongs to the old guy, Walker, a New York stage actor who got his first starring role at He is wonderful here.

He begins as a block of human wood, an old man who looks as if he has not one single thing to say, and then he develops eloquently into a person of poetry and longing. He is, in many of his scenes, literally playing a woman in her 20s. How he does it - how he gets away with it - is through not just craft, but heart. The payoff in the big final scene is enormously gratifying, although, if you see the movie, you may wonder, as I did, how the screenplay lets the old guy wander away at the end.

I guess the filmmakers thought the center of the story was with Baldwin and Ryan. Further, she would rather chat up boring vacationers than have sex. Very quickly Peter suspects that Rita is not herself and that, in fact, she's not Rita at all. If I've taken rather a lot of space to set up the central situation, it's because the film does too.

The sad news about this movie adaptation is that it functions as a cruel critique of the problems that, for whatever reason, did not seem important in the stage production. This "Prelude to a Kiss" is not only without charm and wit, but it's also clumsily set forth: many people seeing it may wonder what, in heaven's name, is going on.

Prelude to a Kiss (United States, 1992)

The center of "Prelude to a Kiss" is a single extraordinary scene. Late one night after the terrible honeymoon, after Rita has run home to her parents, Peter wanders into the Chicago bar where she used to work. Fiddling with his drink, feeling bereft, he looks up to see a strangely familiar old man sitting on the other side of the bar. Behind the old man's ravaged, forlorn and frightened face, Peter suddenly recognizes the vital young woman he said he would love and cherish until the end of time.

It's a coup de theatre of exalting order, a scene of almost indescribable sweetness and humor followed by desolation. Peter and the transmigrated Rita are initially joyous at rediscovering each other, but then they consider their options, which are few. They can't even hold hands in public. View all New York Times newsletters. As staged in the theater by Mr. Rene, this scene was so spellbinding that it had the effect of enriching all that came before and all that was to come after.

It was the heart of the matter the play was about: a love so rare and profound that it transcends physical decay and imminent loss. Not incidentally, it was also a poignant reflection on the trials of love in the era of AIDS. Rene, in his capacity as film director, somehow flubs this scene so completely that the movie never gathers the emotional momentum that would make everything else work. Its failure is more easily reported than blame can be attributed.

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  • Unlike the play, which takes place within a unit set and can move with the speed of light, the opened-up film lumbers like someone on crutches. Against the literal surroundings of Chicago, the North Shore and Jamaica, Peter, Rita and the old man become perfunctory characters, interesting only for the bizarre situation in which they are caught.

    They lack any convincing particularity or idiosyncrasy. The same dialogue that served well enough on the stage now sounds arch and coy or metaphysically flat. The explanation for the turnabout has its roots in early Walt Disney, specifically in a song from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The performances are colorless, though Mr. Baldwin's hair looks so unnaturally black that it seems that it's going to be a plot point, which it isn't.

    Review/Film; A Kiss Turns Into the Unexpected

    The camera doesn't reveal characters. The close-ups corner the actors to expose banalities. Baldwin, who played Peter on the stage in New York, can be a terrifically tough and funny actor but seems drab in the movie. The harder Ms. Ryan works to be engaging, the less effective the results. Walker, who played the old man in the play's West Coast production, is simply sorrowful.

    It can be assumed that Mr. Rene and Mr. Lucas, whose first movie collaboration was "Longtime Companion," were allowed a free hand in the production of "Prelude to a Kiss.

    Prelude to a Kiss. Levy; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: minutes.

    Prelude to a Kiss | Cinema Faith

    This film is rated PG Peter Hoskins. Alec Baldwin Rita Boyle. Meg Ryan Leah Blier. Kathy Bates Dr.