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A CRITIC'S HINTS FOR CHOOSING A DATE MOVIE ... AND SURVIVING.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Writer

Friends ask me all the time for recommendations for a good ``date movie.'' Usually I'll suggest some favorite film like ``Dancer in the Dark,'' the musical about a blind woman trying to avoid the gallows, and, for some odd reason, I'll never hear from that friend again. Or I will, but only as a witness in divorce proceedings.

You see, in my book, a good date movie is a good movie, period. It's not some sappy atrocity like ``The Wedding Planner,'' but instead an absorbing film that gives you something to talk about afterward. And let's face it: Conversation starters can come in handy since dating is as much about filling in those awkward silences as it is about soft lights and romantic music.

Now I realize this mindset is not for everyone. Not everyone watched ``Pretty Woman'' and saw a morally corrupt, emotionally bankrupt story about a Cinderella streetwalker. Not everyone laughed their way through ``Ghost.''

But I suspect that any woman who dragged her date to see Sandra Bullock in ``28 Days'' was looking for a new man in her life by the time ``Miss Congeniality'' rolled around. And that's not the point in dating, is it?

Taking a man to see a Sandra Bullock movie is akin to having a guy entertain a woman with a fun-filled night of video games on his big-screen TV. Why not just tell your date about your recurring problems with head lice - preferably over dinner - and get the relationship over with?

For those actually wanting their relationships to continue, here are some date movie pointers:

Let her pick the movie. This is a no-brainer, especially early in the relationship. Why? Well, if you're looking to create a romantic mood for some amorous activities after the cinema, you want her to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And if - God forbid - something like ``Save the Last Dance'' is the film that floats her boat, then what's two hours out of your life, anyway?

Get a large tub of popcorn. When you've polished that off, excuse yourself and roam around the lobby for awhile, just to stem the number of brain cells being destroyed. Then, when the movie's over, tell her how much you loved it and suggest that you return to your place to practice some of those dance moves.

Let her pick the movie - unless she defers to you. Some women don't want that kind of pressure. They're smart. Take the following scenario:

A woman is having dinner with her date, and he says, ``Honey, you choose the movie. I'll love whatever you pick.'' The woman knows that if she follows her heart and says, ``OK - how about 'The Wedding Planner'?'' she has set into motion a chain of events beyond her control. The guy will smile nervously, ask if he can be excused to go to the bathroom and then never return because he has escaped through the service entrance and is currently boarding the next plane to Buenos Aires.

What was the fatal error made here? ``The Wedding Planner'' is not only a movie that a guy would schedule a colonic to avoid, but it also has the word ``wedding'' in the title. And mentioning the word ``wedding'' to some men on a date is akin to looking a dog in the eye and saying, ``BATH.'' You don't take a man to see ``The Wedding Planner'' until after you're married, and only then if he's done something worth punishing - like taping over your wedding video to record a Clippers game.

Know how to recognize bad options. Shortly after my wife and I were married, we went to see Neil LaBute's ``In the Company of Men,'' which I had to review for the paper. My wife was so appalled at the male behavior in this movie that she didn't speak to me for the remainder of the day.

Now, I know for some husbands this would not be considered a bad thing. But if you're out on a date, communication can actually be considered important - even desired. So you're going to want to steer clear of filmmakers who thinly veil their contempt for women (Robert Altman comes to mind) and any movie that features violence inflicted upon women. ``Boys Don't Cry'' may have an Oscar-winning performance by Hilary Swank, but watching her suffer just isn't going to do much for the rest of the evening.

Other films to avoid on date night: ``Requiem for a Dream,'' ``Happiness,'' ``The Accused'' and, of course, ``Dead Ringers,'' which features every woman's dream man - an insane gynecologist who creates special surgical tools for ``mutant women.''

Give them something to talk about. A publicist friend of mine told me that ``Traffic'' would be her ultimate date movie because ``you could see where your date stands on some issues, not to mention see if your date had any brains.''

She has a good point, even if she does represent the movie's director, Steven Soderbergh. Imagine a movie like ``Traffic'' as a litmus test and let the learning begin. Your date may exit the theater saying, ``Wow! Compassion and rehabilitation really do work better than putting a drug user behind bars.'' And you'll say, ``That's a good point, Robert Downey Jr.,'' and then go off and enjoy a passionate make-out session.

Or your date may say, ``We've got to step up this nation's war on drugs until every last pothead is locked safely away in prison.'' In which case, you'll probably go directly from the movie theater to the neighborhood firing range for a spirited shoot-out session.

Or your date may say, ``That movie was soooo good. Do you, like, wanna go get stoned?'' And then you'll smile nervously, ask if you can be excused to go to the bathroom and then never return because you've escaped through the service entrance and are currently boarding the next plane to Buenos Aires.

But whatever the outcome, the movie prompted a discovery process far more enlightening than anything you could have gleaned from watching ``You've Got Mail'' together. That is, unless your significant other has a habit of spending a little too much time in Internet chat rooms.

Find good compromises. If you're determined to see a movie that will make you all mushy, then choose one that will have something for both sexes. Mel Gibson's ``What Women Want'' would be a good current choice, as would the romantic martial arts movie ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'' and the rapturous tale of romantic repression ``In the Mood for Love.''

Blasts from the pasts that fit the description: ``Witness,'' ``Rear Window,'' ``Bull Durham,'' ``Roxanne'' and ``Out of Sight.'' ``Four Weddings and a Funeral'' would be a nice video choice, even with the powder keg word in the title.

The important thing is to find a movie where the men behave like men and their women love them anyway. And if that thought doesn't put you in the mood for love, then you're beyond my help. Go watch ``Titanic'' for the umpteenth time. Just don't be surprised if the lookout's cries of ``Iceberg right ahead!'' pertains as much to your relationship as it does that big clunky boat.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Date movies

Picking the wrong flick can end a relationship - fast

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer

(2) ``Traffic,'' starring Michael Douglas and Erika Christensen, might be a good movie to see together if you want to gauge your date's intelligence and/or political leanings.

(3) ``CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON''
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 11, 2001
Words:1257
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