Chances Are (1989)
Chances Are (1989)

Genre: Fantasy and Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: March 10th, 1989 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Emile Ardolino Actors: Cybill Shepherd, Robert Downey Jr., Ryan O’Neal, Mary Stuart Masterson, Christopher McDonald, Josef Sommer, Joe Grifasi




n May of 1963, in Middleburg, Virginia, Corinne Randolph (Cybill Shepherd) walks down the aisle to wed lawyer Louis Jeffries III (Christopher McDonald). Just before the priest begins the vows, best man Philip Train (Ryan O’Neal) confesses that he’s also in love with Corinne, though it has no effect on the groom. It does, however, have an impact on viewers, as it’s unclear if the comment was a joke or in earnest, especially since the two remain close friends, and Philip continues to make moderately uncomfortable sexual jokes in the presence of the three of them.

One year later, Corinne announces that she’s having a baby, much to Louis’ delight. Unfortunately, on their anniversary night, just after he acquires shocking evidence about a corrupt judge and the organized crime lord that he’s been attempting to prosecute, Louis is hit by a car … and killed. “You just got here. You haven’t been processed.” The manic man is overwhelmed when he realizes he’s a soul in heaven (“You’re between bodies right now”) and can’t return to his beloved wife by understandable means. Instead, his only option is to be reborn, without any memories of his former life. Thanks to an inept celestial employee and Louis’ haste, he skips the inoculation process, which means that he may retain some inkling of a connection to the original Louis Jeffries.

Jumping ahead yet again in the timeline to present day (1989), Corinne’s daughter Miranda (Mary Stuart Masterson) is now 23 and studying at Yale University, where she crosses paths with a flirtatious, aspiring Washington Post reporter named Alex Finch (Robert Downey Jr.), who is clearly destined to pursue her. It’s entirely guessable that Alex is the reincarnated Louis, even if that information isn’t immediately confirmed, especially as he becomes entangled in the lives of both the Jeffrieses and Philip (now a godfather who is still overly close to Corinne). It’s quite curious that not only do ages not entirely line up (Cybill Shepherd isn’t old enough to have a 23-year-old child, nor does she appear as if she’s aged a day between the two-decade gap) but also no effort is made to help align the sensibilities of the passed years. “I don’t believe this!”

Though the premise is entirely original, it’s thoroughly messy and occasionally nonsensical. The extremely unlikely circumstances oftentimes don’t work, even in the context of the outright fantasy of the plot. Once Alex begins experiencing flashbacks and undergoes an identity crisis – a split personality of sorts, which unrealistically dismisses all the years that he would have had to develop his own life and psyche and relationships, as well as the instant download of an older man’s education – the scenario dumps any sort of common sense in favor of awkward humor. It doesn’t help that Corinne is so outrageously generous with a total stranger – having him over for a meal, giving him a room to stay in, and even leaving him alone in her house (where he proceeds to read her diary and smell her pillows) – directly after he makes a delusional scene at dinner. “He’s just a little stressed.”

Shepherd does a pretty decent job of expressing disbelief and disgust and confusion as her eerie new house guest makes unconvincing attempts to persuade her of his incredibly specific knowledge about intimate items. Although the setup and the picture as a whole is simply ludicrous, there are a number of genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments (sharing a couple notes with “Ghost” which would debut soon after) that capitalize on the outright clumsiness of the interactions. It’s so exceptionally chaotic – and sticky, as Alex is half the age of Corinne, and Miranda is falling in love with her own father (reminiscent of the hilariousness of scenes from “Back to the Future”) – that it seems as if the writers have written themselves into an impossible corner.

“That’s a coincidence!” Although “Chances Are” is a romantic comedy, its so over-the-top, implausible, and routinely uncomfortable in its sexual concepts (there’s more than one love triangle and they both careen into train-wrecks that grow exponentially more distressing as the minutes transpire) that it’s somewhat difficult to enjoy. The longer it all goes on for, the less it appears as if it can possibly reach a satisfying conclusion – and certainly not a neat and tidy one. It’s such a hopelessly absurd script that it’s worth a watch for its preposterousness, but it simply doesn’t work as a cohesive film.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10