By Owen Gleiberman
Updated February 26, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

You could watch the trailers and even read the reviews for the marzipan-sweet romance Untamed Heart without ever guessing at the story’s sentimental hook: that Christian Slater, as Adam the busboy, is playing a monosyllabic simpleton too sensitive for this world — a tender-souled cross between James Dean in East of Eden and Quasimodo. Adam is an orphan who was raised by nuns and almost died because of his bad heart. Now he works at a diner in Minneapolis and keeps to himself, never letting on that he’s smitten with Caroline (Marisa Tomei), a waitress on the late shift who keeps getting dumped by her boyfriends. One night he follows her home at four in the morning and rescues her from a rape attempt. She gets to know her shy protector and falls for him.

Slater, who looks super with his stringy hair grown long, makes a beguilingly childlike hunk; he’s more appealing here than he has been in many of his grunge-rebel roles. Yet I didn’t really believe a moment of this movie. The director, Tony Bill (My Bodyguard), lays on Adam’s saintliness with a trowel. This is the sort of character — all radiant inner goodness — who exists only in films about lovable little people who work at diners.

Still, if Untamed Heart is often too precious for words, there’s one thing in it that feels miraculously fresh: the performance of Marisa Tomei, who follows up her rollicking caricature of a streetwise Italian dish in My Cousin Vinny by proving that she’s a major actress. With her flashing dark eyes and libidinous overbite, Tomei is adorable — she looks like a flirtatious bunny rabbit — but what’s astonishing is the range of expression that passes over those delectable features. Though too sexy to be truly plausible as a down-in-the-dumps waitress who can’t keep a guy, Tomei rescues her role through sheer eagerness. She gazes at Slater with such ardor and delight that he’s transformed, and so is the audience. The primary emotion stirred in me by Untamed Heart was the desire to see Tomei in a movie that’s half as good as she is. B-

Untamed Heart

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Tony Bill