It’s a rare comedy that is so painfully unfunny that it earns not a single laugh. The Bachelor, based loosely on Buster Keaton’s 1925 Seven Chances, is a monotonous, charmless travesty, easily the worst film I’ve endured this year.
Seven Chances is minor Keaton, but it climaxes with a sequence that’s among his best. Several dozen women, dressed in bridal gowns and expecting Keaton’s hand in marriage that afternoon, chase him through city streets. It’s a sublime, surreal image, the wedding party as lynch mob.
The Bachelor concludes with the same sequence, but with a few changes. Most disastrous, the brides are chasing Chris O’Donnell rather than Keaton. Keaton was the best physical comic who ever graced the movies, blessed with superhuman agility and impeccable comic timing. In Seven Chances, he manages to make something as simple as running funny: with a jut of a limb at an odd angle, a stoic look over his shoulder or a sudden acceleration, he keeps escalating the hilarity of the chase.
O’Donnell, on the other hand, is a lump of white bread with good teeth. When he runs, he does nothing but propel himself from one place to another. He’s incapable of being interesting when he speaks, let alone through physicality. Since he can’t generate any mirth in the chase scene, the filmmakers try to whip up laughs by resorting to cheap gags – biker brides, punk brides, fat brides – but to no avail. It manages to get even less funny the longer it lasts. By the end, it resembles nothing so much as a funeral procession.
Inflation is at work throughout the sequence. Keaton is chased by fifty brides; O’Donnell faces 500. Keaton hazards a small town and its outskirts; O’Donnell braves downtown San Francisco at rush hour. Keaton sees the women and runs; O’Donnell faces a church full of angry women bent on lecturing him – and us – about commitment and standards of beauty before he takes off.
In Keaton’s version, he plays a man too bashful to propose to his girlfriend. When he inherits several million dollars on the condition that he marry that day, he botches the proposal and has to seek out other likely prospects. The Bachelor takes this set-up but twists it; O’Donnell is too self-centered and afraid of commitment to propose properly. This difference is small but telling. We care whether or not Keaton survives the onslaught of the brides because we know that he actually wants to marry his girlfriend. O’Donnell is so diffident – and obnoxious – about the proposal that it couldn’t matter less who he marries. If he does wed his simpering girlfriend, he’ll still be an oaf, she’ll still pout and whine, and their kids will surely be insufferable.
Renee Zellweger, so touching in Jerry Maguire and The Whole Wide World, is saddled with the terrible role of O’Donnell’s girlfriend. She struggles, but is undone again and again by the film’s determination to turn her into a bland ingenue.
I was shocked at first that The Bachelor doesn’t acknowledge Seven Chances in its credits until just before the closing copyright notice. Now I suspect that they don’t want to risk comparisons by mentioning Keaton in the opening credits. Or perhaps Keaton’s heirs have threatened suit. (If not, they should. No jury in the land would fail to find this film a defamation of their father’s legacy.) In either case, I’m glad. I’d hate for anyone unfamiliar with his work to associate this ponderous mess with him.