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Olive Films // PG-13 // February 16, 2016
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted February 17, 2016 | E-mail the Author
When Julia Mann (Geena Davis) and Kevin Vallick (Michael Keaton) first meet, it's not the usual kind of Meet Cute: they've both placed their hands on the last bottle of sleeping pills in the tiny bed and breakfast where they're both holed up, plagued by insomnia. They agree to split it, but find themselves in the same diner, still awake, a few hours later. Before long, they're stranded on a desert road, hitchhiking to and from Kevin's antique convertible for gasoline, and finally making out in the parking lot. They've got a chemistry together, and can't wait to see each other, but there's one big catch: although Julia passes herself off as press and Kevin identifies himself as a TV sitcom writer, they're both actually speechwriters for New Mexico's upcoming election candidates, she on the Democratic side, he on the Republican side. Their relationship represents a conflict of interest, but they find themselves unable to resist each other's charms, even when they're complicating each other's professional obligations.

Speechless ought to gain more from its political premise than it does, and it falls into more than a few romantic comedy potholes, but it's a generally enjoyable bit of His Girl Friday-style screwball antics that has the added bonus of reuniting the stars of Beetlejuice.

Now, I admit, I have a real head-over-heels crush on Geena Davis, so this could be personal bias speaking, but Kevin's somewhat aggressive advances come off a bit more smarmy than charming at first. A few slapstick sparks fly when they try to figure out how to best maneuver their make-out session around the interior of Kevin's car, but the script by Robert King places them against each other for the next fifteen minutes after they discover each other's identity at a high school Q&A session that goes terribly wrong. It isn't until he ends up with her day planner and sabotages one of her candidate's (Mitch Ryan) speeches that Davis and Keaton finally click. King's best concept is the idea that both of them are plagued by the same insomniac tendencies, giving the characters something they can advise one another on and a reason to both be up and about when nobody else is around. One of the movie's romantic highlights comes when they go on a late-night walk together and end up splashing each other in a park fountain, which manages to combine the exhilaration of goofing off in public with an isolated intimacy.

Although Davis is luminous and Keaton is relatively charming, it's clear that the political subplot of the film is both a great idea and the movie's weakest aspect. To some degree, it's understandable that King would want to avoid losing as much as half his audience by clearly favoring the Democrats or the Republicans (although it must be said, the Republican candidate's plan to build a ditch between the U.S. and Mexico is both an easy target and eerily prescient), but the result is a backdrop that has no teeth because nobody wants to step on any toes. The proper way to handle the candidates would be to give both of them proper bite and let Julia and Kevin have a genuine battle of wits, but instead their back-and-forth feel more like pranks or good-natured jabs delivered through two identical windbags.

Both in front and behind the camera, the film boasts an eccentric lineup of familiar names and faces. The project was produced by Davis and her then-husband Renny Harlin -- an unusual fit for a guy more accustomed to B-action thrillers. The supporting cast includes Ernie Hudson as Julia's suspicious supervisor, Bonnie Bedelia as Kevin's ex-wife (a plot point that is so downplayed it'd be easy to miss), and Harry Shearer and Steven Wright as the stars of the sitcom Kevin used to write for (which one comes away desperately wanting to see in all its belabored, surreal glory). There's also an antagonist in the form of Bob Freed (Christopher Reeve), Julia's ex-fiance. The character of Bob is kind of a nothing role, one the film hardly has time to include in addition to Julia and Kevin trying to hide their relationship to save their jobs, and the movie's romantic comedy structure, which pulls out the predictable and uninspired "misunderstanding" for a climactic conflict. Yet, Reeve is so charming and charismatic in the role that he makes it into more of a character without appearing to put much effort into it.

The Blu-ray
Olive Films brings Speechless to Blu-ray with a slightly alternate version of the original theatrical poster art, featuring Keaton and Davis' chins, mouths pointed at one another. The art uses a striking white and maroon color palette. The one weird quibble: the spine is upside-down, like certain foreign Blu-rays that put text in the opposite direction. The one-disc set comes in a boxy Infiniti Blu-ray case, and there is a postcard insert that will score you Olive's mail-order catalog.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 1080p AVC widescreen and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, Speechless is pretty par for the course in terms of Olive's contemporary MGM pick-ups. This is a perfectly solid transfer that shows a certain amount of age but offers a noticeable uptick in clarity and vibrancy. Some print damage is visible, and there are times when the picture can look a touch washed out, but colors are striking (especially Davis' red hair), and there's a visible layer of film grain over the image. The movie is mostly verbal sparring and other unremarkable kind of challenges in terms of audio, which sounds clean and free of distortion or compression issues. No subtitles or captions have been included on the disc.

The Extras
Only an original theatrical trailer.

There's not a whole lot to say about Speechless, which has ideas that could be exploited into a more memorable, biting comedy but lacks the ambition to do so. It's not that it's a bad film by any measure, but it's not much more than pleasant, either, without any real surprises or intrigue along the way. Lightly recommended, especially for Geena Davis fans.

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