Heating Up The Screen -- Stars' Chemistry Gives Sizzle To So-So Mystery

Movie review

XX "I Love Trouble," with Julia Roberts, Nick Nolte, Saul Rubinek, Robert Loggia, Olympia Dukakis. Directed by Charles Shyer, from a script by Shyer and Nancy Meyers. Aurora, Broadway Market, Crossroads, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Metro, Mountlake, Parkway Plaza, Totem Lake, Valley drive-in. "PG" - Parental guidance advised because of language, subject matter. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Before this romantic thriller is half over, Nick Nolte is referring to it as a Hardy Boys mystery.

He might as well say it, because you'll be thinking it - and wondering how Nolte and his very popular co-star, Julia Roberts, got talked into making the picture. Only their professionalism and occasional chemistry provide enough reason to sit through its 123-minute running time.

They play hotshot newspaper reporters for rival Chicago papers. He's the star of the Chronicle, preoccupied with pushing his first novel, "White Lies," and so confident in his reputation that he can recycle a 9-year-old story and almost get it past his editor (Robert Loggia). She's trying to establish a reputation at the Globe that will take her past the sensational stories she's done in the past.

He eats steak, fried onion rings and white bread. She prefers steamed vegetables and whole-wheat club sandwiches without mayonnaise or bacon. He hits on her the moment they meet; she bluntly informs him he has no chance of scoring. When an elevator goes dark and she tells him to get his hand out of her blouse, you're supposed to realize they're made for each other.

When both are assigned to cover a train wreck, they discover a series of murders that suggests a conspiracy. But the details are so sketchy, the melodramatic characters in the background so florid, that the mixture of suspense and romance is neither smooth nor convincing. It doesn't help when the director, Charles Shyer, falls back on dark-and-stormy-night cliches or cutesy visual wipes that take us from one scene to the next.

Shyer and his co-writer and co-producer, Nancy Meyers, are best-known for their 1991 remake of a Spencer Tracy classic, "Father of the Bride." This movie will also remind you of Tracy vehicles, especially the ones in which he played a reporter or a lawyer or an athletic coach sparring with Katharine Hepburn.

It will also remind you of Roberts' last box-office hit, "The Pelican Brief," and several Hitchcock pictures, especially "North by Northwest," from which it borrows one entire scene in which Nolte tries to attract Roberts' attention by throwing a ring that her captors supposedly won't notice. Tremendously suspenseful and character-revealing in the original, in which Cary Grant used a tossed matchbook to warn Eva Marie Saint, the scene looks like a mistake here.

Generic as its title, "I Love Trouble" is like a Xerox of a copy of a facsimile. You know what the filmmakers intended, and who can blame them for trying to create a modern version of "Charade" crossed with "Woman of the Year"? But they don't cover their tracks well, and they don't have many fresh ideas.

Even the dialogue is imitation wit, cluttered as it is with gags about penis size, insults about independent professional women, frequent macho declarations along the lines of "I could scoop her any day of the week," and verbose confessions by bad guys who have no compelling reason to reveal their motives.