Right from the shot of a turbulent sea during the opening credits, you know this isn't going to be a smooth ride through the Tunnel Of Love. It begins positively with Theresa having an incredible run of lucky breaks which leads her to Garret's home town of Saint Clare. And, needless to say, it's not long before she and leathery old sea dog Garret are riding on a love boat out to sea. There's romance a go-go in the shape of log fires and bedtime cuddles, but before you can say: ""Oh, what a super love story"" the problems kick in.
Theresa neglects to tell Garret that he's merely a story she's working on, and it isn't until after they fall in love and he visits her that he discovers the truth. Garret doesn't take kindly to being lied to, and the rest of the film is spent in Will They, Won't They? Limbo, which is over-egged and piles on the tedium after a while. Especially when Costner spends 90 per cent of his scenes frowning, and Wright Penn spends hers looking misty-eyed and confused. And just for good measure there's the obligatory child thrown in - in the shape of Wright Penn's sprog - to enable a few meaningful mom 'n' son moments.
Relief comes in the subplots, which include Garret's volatile relationship with his dead wife's family, and his frustrated father's battle to make his son see sense. But one of the most gripping themes is Theresa's hair, which endures more style changes in one movie than Madonna's undergone during her career. And as for her clothes...
The relationships in Message In A Bottle are explored deeply, and there are some moving moments. But, sadly, there're also a fair few cheesy lines thrown in too (""She could brighten up a whole town"") with some similarly naff moments. And while the music (from the likes of Hootie&The Blowfish and Sheryl Crow) does add to the atmosphere, it's a tad overused and ends up detracting from what's happening on screen.
The acting is commendable, however, with Newman stealing all the funny lines and putting in a brilliant performance as jaded ex-alcoholic Dodge. But, although Costner and Wright Penn are impressive individually, the spark between the two of them would fail to ignite a small, rusting gas ring. An enjoyable romance if you can ignore the lengthy schmuck between the good bits - but don't expect high-brow entertainment.
A clichéd, yet enjoyable flick that would have been way better if it was half the length. Newman's performance and an excellent twist in the tale just about save Message In a Bottle from being another run-of-the-mill, run-for-your-life romantic flick.