In Sydney Pollack’s preposterous romantic mystery Random Hearts, Harrison Ford wears an ebony stud earring. Throughout the movie, I kept staring at it, wondering what that tiny adornment was doing attached to him. Ford plays a Washington, D.C., Internal Affairs sergeant named Dutch Van Den Broeck who shares a dingy office with a half-dozen coworkers and munches very slowly on his homemade sandwiches. (He seems to enjoy the act of chewing to a remarkable degree.) He also sports one of my least favorite Harrison Ford haircuts: Let’s call it the angry brush. A lot of actors look good with short hair, but Ford isn’t among them. Whenever he appears in one of his moussed and spiky jobs, he seems unhappy and vaguely psychotic, as if he were about to go out and attack the barber who had it in for him. But back to that earring! Humbly, I ask: What is it doing there? Why would an actor of Ford’s stature, playing a hardened cop who styles his locks like a former Marine and relishes the stale bread he eats for lunch, want to look like the first middle-aged club kid?
Watching Random Hearts, it’s easy to linger on issues as vital as this, since the movie itself sputters and sprawls, breathtakingly unaware of how ponderous it is. This, you see, is no mere love story, no ordinary tale of adultery and loss. It’s about…the soul. The space at the center of our beings. It’s about the enigma of adultery, which is that people — normal, decent people — do it for no reason at all, except that they crave…something. Romance. Renewal. A second chance at love. Or maybe just a good multiple orgasm.
Random Hearts is the movie that dares to ask, What’s even worse than learning that your wife has just been killed in a plane crash? Answer: Learning that she was on her way to Miami for a weekend rendezvous with her lover. If it’s possible to look like you want to cry and strangle stray pedestrians at the same time, Ford succeeds, but I’m not sure that this is an acting triumph audiences will respond to. In his gloomy, introspective mode, Ford steamrolls every scene with the heaviness of his emotions. He becomes a thick-witted, broodingly stylized hero: Torment Man.
The thing is, we’re supposed to be watching this guy fall in love. During a visit to the Saks department store where his wife worked, Dutch learns that she lied to him about the purpose of her trip, and he’s too smart not to figure out why. He soon learns of the identity of the man (Peter Coyote) she was seated with — he was killed on the plane as well — and then pays a visit to the man’s wife.
Dutch’s fellow spouse-in-mourning, Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas), turns out to be a feisty New Hampshire congresswoman running for reelection. If the story of her husband’s adultery gets out, her candidacy will be ruined. That, at least, is what we’re supposed to think. But what I thought was: Must every movie now come with a faux-timely political-media angle? In the first of many ludicrous scenes, Dutch goes down to Miami to find his wife’s extramarital hideaway (he walks into a neon-swank South Beach restaurant where they — gulp! — tangoed), and there he runs into Kay. The two seem about as romantic as rival insurance investigators, but before long they’re sitting in a car, their frenzied embrace an act of desperate, neurotic desire.
Random Hearts might best be described as bereavement porn. Pollack lingers over the details of the plane crash, and the dialogue is a series of morose retro howlers. He: ”Was wondering if you would come.” She: ”Guy like you, girl like me, what possible reason could there be not to?” The nuttiest thing about the movie is that once Dutch and Kay have figured out what their spouses were up to, there’s nothing left for them to discover, yet Dutch keeps on snooping around. What, exactly, is he looking for? Old perfume bottles? A prescription for venereal-disease medicine? Pollack must think he’s making a movie as obsessive as Vertigo, but there’s a depressingly dated soap-opera-noir fustiness to the way he turns his hero into a cuckolded Philip Marlowe. Marlowe, at least, wouldn’t have worn one black earring to a funeral.