January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

No, the Police haven’t made a movie, but Message in a Bottle does feature a king of pain. Back from The Postman‘s postapocalypse, Kevin Costner plays the heartsick shipbuilder in this adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ best-seller; Robin Wright Penn, the journalist who finds Costner’s letter to his dead wife and decides to find him. Paul Newman, as Costner’s crusty ex-drunk dad, provides some on-screen levity. Off camera, the mere presence of the condiment king did the trick. ”The prop guys,” says director Luis Mandoki (When a Man Loves a Woman), ”put Newman’s Own salad dressing on the table as a joke.” Hail, Caesar?

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