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Untamed Heart came out in theaters in mid-February of 1993, so roughly six weeks before Marisa Tomei officially became an Oscar-winning actress. This was just another minor release hoping to scratch up a few more dollars as forced date movie in conjunction with a Hallmark holiday. Clearly I committed to the Valentine’s Day angle in writing this review, including an incredibly labored metaphor at the close.

The movie Untamed Heart seems perfectly suited for a release around Valentine’s Day. It stars two appealing, attractive young performers going through the rigors of romance in style designed to jerk tears. There’s a lovely woman who’s had to endure countless bad relationships and had difficulty following through on anything that might be beneficial to her. She falls for a handsome but woefully misunderstood coworker who is dealing with a serious illness. The movie is sweet, tender, and sad, but for much of the time it is also overly restrained and lifeless.

Marisa Tomei of My Cousin Vinny is the young woman still rebounding from her most recent crash on the dating scene, and Christian Slater is her tough, silent, and deeply thoughtful new love. She has known him for a long time, at the diner where they both work, but has never realized how deeply her cares for her.He even makes a point of following her when she walks home at night, staying far enough away to keep her from noticing, but close enough to help if trouble arises. After he steps in to end a rape attempt from a pair of cruel customers, Tomei begins to examine the layers of this sad, childlike man, quickly falling head over heels in love with him.

She finds a certain magic in Slater; the way he listens to old, battered records to end rainstorms, and the fable-like tale of how his ailing ticker was replaced with the heart of a baboon king as a child. Despite some overly simplistic elements, the film romance is usually believable and compassionate, helped greatly by fine performances by the two principals.

The problem is that it’s not particularly compelling. It’s nice to see Tomei’s character wind up with someone who cares so deeply for her that she’s constantly in his thoughts, viewing his own birthday as the chance to give her a loving gift. Yet the movie never really draws the viewer in or makes the relationship seems vital. This new romance is supposedly deeply important to both characters, but the audience is never let in on the true depth of the affection. Their gradual discovery of one another is nicely portrayed by director Tony Bill, but much of the time spent together as lovers is strangely absent. Their life together is largely compressed to a quick montage that seems more like a stroll past a greeting card aisle than an intimate glance into a caring partnership.

The film moves along with methodical determination, fulfilling all of the expectations of the mind, but forgoing any connection to the heart. As a Valentine’s Day gift, Untamed Heart is a beautiful, lush, red, heart-shaped box that seems wonderful at first glance, but is terribly skimpy with the most satisfying treats when you open it up and look closer.

2 stars, out of 4.

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