'A Previous Engagement'


A Mediterranean rendezvous sets the stage for a whole mess of frantic behavior in "A Previous Engagement," a forced farce that fails to showcase its normally talented cast members to engaging effect.

Filmed entirely on location on the island of Malta, this interminable international co-production, presented by Buccaneer Films and Palisades Pictures, is an intended sun-drenched, romantic-comedic getaway that completely got away.

The normally irreproachable Juliet Stevenson ("Truly Madly Deeply") mugs shamelessly as a Seattle-based librarian who had made a pact to meet up with Frenchman Tcheky Karyo at the same spot in Malta where they made torrid love 25 years earlier.

The problem is, she's made the return trip with a little extra baggage in the form of her initially oblivious husband (Daniel Stern) and her whiny grown daughters (Claire Brosseau, Elizabeth Whitmere).

Needless to say, all hell will break loose.

There probably was something workable here in a Shirley Valentine/Neil Simon sort of way, but writer-director Joan Carr-Wiggin seems to have had one film in mind while instructing her trusting cast to behave as if they were in another.

The shrill result is poorly paced slapstick with more urbane aspirations, but by the time Carr-Wiggin gets around to something resembling poignancy, her obnoxious characters have long stopped giving audiences any reason to care. (partialdiff)