Seaside bliss

In the charming romantic comedy Miami Rhapsody, just about everything goes right

And Antonio Banderas hasn't looked this relaxed onscreen since he was working with Pedro Almodovar back in Spain. Up to now, American movies have used him decoratively, encouraging him to pose, smile, and smolder rather than act. Miami Rhapsody certainly plays up his overpowering sex appeal--at the screening I saw, when he finally put his hands on Parker's hips, the subsequent dialogue was obscured by the sound of grown women, and more than a few men, gasping. But the film also gives him an endearing, offbeat, fully-rounded character to play, and his kooky, ethereal side emerges. He's an original screen presence who combines the dashing charm of Cary Grant, the limber-bodied wildness of the young Steve Martin, and a dash of adolescent bad-boy loneliness. During introspective moments, his facial expressions are so bizarre yet genuine that watching him, you just know his character is thinking hard about things no other movie character has ever considered.

It goes without saying that Miami Rhapsody is as artificial and contrived as any screen comedy with pretensions toward sophistication. On some level, you can't help reminding yourself that nobody in the real world talks this wittily or lives this comfortably. But because the film respects the complexities of human relationships, it never comes off as too cutesy. Everything about it looks and feels just right, from the way the subplots resolve themselves in dramatically appropriate ways--some predictable, others surprising, all satisfying--to the way cinematographer Jack Wallner gives every frame a shimmering, lively sheen, serving up a dreamy tropical wonderland of emerald palm leaves, candy-apple sunsets, and oceans with the thick texture and undiluted hue of blue acrylic paint squeezed straight from the tube. Straight-ahead escapist entertainment doesn't get much better than this.

Miami Rhapsody. Hollywood Pictures. Sarah Jessica Parker, Gil Bellows, Antonio Banderas, Mia Farrow, Paul Mazursky. Written and directed by David Frankel. Now showing. Rated PG-13; 110 minutes.

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