WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING ** 1/4 (1995). Directed by Jon Turtelaub. Written by Daniel G. Sullivan & Fredric Lebow. Produced by Joe Roth, Roger Birnbaum. Photography, Phaedon Papamichael. Editing, Bruce Green. Production design, Garreth Stowe. Music, Randy Edelman. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher, Peter Boyle, Glynis Johns, Jack Warden, et al. A Buena Vista release. 100 minutes. Rated PG.
The romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle" -- whose box-office success "While You Were Sleeping" is no doubt trying to emulate -- was about love at first sound. With less originality, the new movie is about love at first sight. This happens when Lucy Moderatz (Sandra Bullock), sitting in her booth and selling tokens for the Chicago Transit Authority, notices customer Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher).
Soon after, Peter gets mugged. Lucy saves him and follows him to the hospital, where he remains in a coma for much of the duration. Peter's rescuer, in a series of quid pro quos, is taken for his fiancee by the staff and Peter's family. For specious and suspicious reasons, she does not deny it.
This makes "WYWS" another entry in the movie category "Impostors or Impersonators. " A haphazard list would include works as different as "Moon Over Parador, "' " Hail the Conquering Hero, " "Dave, " " Hero, " "The Awful Truth, " "Paper Mask. " "WYWS, " though watchable, is not in their class however.
The Gallagher tribe goes or Lucy in a big way. She too finds them lovable. Then she meets Jack (Bill Pullman), Peter's brother, who thinks that something is fishy. You have already guessed what will happen next.
Lucy lives alone, with her cat. The number of her apartment is 201. The makers of the movie feel like former students of a Scriptwriting 201 course. Their work suggests that in class they were shown many sitcoms as models.
Look at the way the scenario calculates moves, complications and gimmicks that are not necessarily true to real life. To start with, why is attractive Lucy so entirely lonely? Granted that millions of wonderful people have dull lives, at least the film could have explained Lucy's isolation, given us reasons or antecedents.
Bill Pullman is more or less cast against character, after playing a loser in his recent films: "Malice, " "Sommersby, " "The Last Seduction, " and, yes, "Sleepless in Seattle. " I say "more or less" since there's still something a bit dim about him, as there is about the Callaghan family that is almost always marching in platoon formation.
One-dimensionality and plot devices prevail. The Catholic Callaghans' best friend and omnipresent neighbor is Jewish Saul Tuttle (Jack Warden) who is also Peter's godfather. Joe Junior, the son of the super of Lucy's apartment complex, is a comic idiot (nice of course) whose presence adds artificial misunderstandings. Then another false rumor spreads. And so on.
The movie reinforces its deliberate feel-good tone with a Christmas season setting. The dialogue does not shine. Would-be funny repartees fall flat. A potentially comical dinner-table conversation at the Callaghans is only half-amusing. And so on.
The editing is not exactly subtle. When early on we see Joe Junior's half-bare derriere, the camera cuts to hot dogs. When, in a later transition, Lucy, in the first throes of true love, returns to her apartment from the wintry cold, the closeup of her face shows her looking radiant via a blatantly fresh job of makeup.
The funniest scene, perhaps one that happened by chance, has a newspaper delivery boy slinging a paper and falling off his bike. This is entirely irrelevant to the story, yet its sudden absurdism is comical.
The movie gets prolonged by the artificial respiration of a familiar ploy: people neither fessing up nor coming out with their real feelings.
Now for the good news. In spite of a synthetic construction, weaknesses, a flagging last half-hour and general forgetability, "While You Were Sleeping" is not a bore. It has some nice romance, makes some viewers laugh a lot and will surely make its producers smile all the way to the bank.
Lucy and Jack have an innocent kind of charm. They are pleasant, especially Lucy who also thinks pretty fast on her feet. But if you are taken with Bullock, check out older movies with British actresss Glynis Johns who plays the dotty grandma and who was one of the most enchanting screen presences: "49th Parallel, " "An Ideal Husband, " "Encore, " "The Promoter, " "The Beachcomber, " "The Court Jester, " "The Sundowners" (Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) or lesser works like "No Highway in the Sky" or "Another Time, Another Place."