Were it not for the always awesome Sissy Spacek and a few offbeat moments of character actor dazzlement, the strained and force-fed corniness that is Hard Promises would overwhelm your blood sugar and have you headed straight for the emergency room.
All but dripping with downhome charm, small-town coziness, and lovable kook overload, Hard Promises is about an aw-shucks absentee husband who races home to his provincial little burg when he learns that his wife is planning to marry another. This is one of those comedies in which, no matter what, we're meant to find the carefree and irresponsible protagonist the pinnacle of all things charmingly wonderful and attractive. So when the movie says "Wife wants to marry a new guy," what it's really saying is "Wife threatens to marry a new guy but, c'mon, we all really prefer the irresponsible old jerk of a husband, anyway."
Clearly a minor vanity piece for producer/star William Petersen (he gets numerous chances to look soulful and doe-eyed, plus he remembers to show off his chest in at least three scenes), Hard Promises offers one sparkling diamond and a few lesser nuggets of gold mired in an overfed and painfully cuddly marathon. The diamond is, of course, Sissy Spacek, an actress who could do lighthearted rom-com piffle like this in her sleep. She raises this material from tedious to medium-level charming with only a few slight lines of dialogue. And there are several supporting performances that inject some colorful life into the proceedings: Mare Winningham as a sassy girlfriend, Peter MacNicol as a fastidious attorney, Brian Kerwin as the potentially new husband.
Hey, if you have a soft spot for these broadly-written and entirely unrealistic yet quaintly amusing and undemanding ensemble comedies, you could do worse than Hard Promises. You know where it's headed within its first fifteen minutes, and it gets to the destination with several mild chuckles, a few great performances, and only the smallest of surprises along the way.
Video: The 1991 film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) aspect ratio. Picture quality is actually pretty crisp and clean, especially when you consider we're talking about a semi-obscure MGM catalog title.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, with optional subtitles in English and French.
Extras: A collection of trailers for Bewitched: The TV Series, Christmas with the Kranks, Madison, and The Partridge Family.
I'd love to live in one of these little movie towns: Places where everybody knows everyone else, where huge crowds of neighbors follow the romantic entanglements as they spill into front yards, and where nobody ever gets mad, gets hurt, or holds a grudge. Sounds like a lovely town to visit, which I guess is why there are so many movies set there.