Mystery Date (1991) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and mild language
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Teri Polo, Brian McNamara, B.D. Wong, Tony Rosato, Fisher Stevens   
Director: Jonathan Wacks

Screenplay: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte
Review published February 24, 2004

Mystery Date is a tedious exercise in the routine, with gags so trite, you'll be reciting each punch line minutes before it actually occurs.  With such likeable romantic leads, it's a shame to see them wasted in idiotic formula plot twists, culminating in the most strained attempts at physical humor.  It's just one more case of the mistaken identity syndrome, devoid of laughs or surprises, with little for us to do but watch the machinations of the script proceed on its expected course to disaster.

Ethan Hawke (Gattaca, Training Day) gets his first real starring role as social geek teenager, Tom McHugh.  With no experience with women, he can only dream of the chance to meet the sexy girl-next-door, Geena (Polo, Meet the Parents), spending much of his time peeping at her through his telescope.  Enter older brother Craig (McNamara, Arachnophobia), who sees an opportunity to help his misfit brother by setting him up on a date with Geena, as he also gives instruction on how to be a real ladies man like himself by literally looking and acting in the same manner.  Once on the date, nothing seems to go right, starting off with a dead body in the trunk, with cops and bad guys after Tom, who is mistaken for his shady older brother.

Mystery Date is a mix of many different films, many of which are too memorable for the screenwriting team of Bennett and Runte (Super Mario Bros.) to not have stolen ideas blatantly.  The mistaken identity angle resembles North by Northwest, a classic romantic comedy about a man who assumes the role of the person he vehemently denies being all along, with the same dialogue of denial virtually lifted from Ernest Lehman's script.  Hawke spends much of his time looking and acting like Tom Cruise, who did a very similar film called Risky Business, about a young man left alone who begins seeing a hot chick while getting into all sorts of trouble, including taking a family member's expensive car without permission.  Fisher Stevens makes a recurring appearance as a florist out to get the tip he was stiffed at any cost -- a complete rip-off of Better Off Dead's crazy paperboy.  Is there really a difference between "I want my tip!" and "I want my two dollars!"?

It starts off promising, but as the situations get more dire, the script in turn becomes more desperate.  Mystery Date is an excruciatingly monotonous by-the-numbers teen flick without a shred of originality to be found.  The real mystery is why they made this film to begin with.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo