Fri, 14 Feb 2003

'Rumah Ketujuh' lacks romantic flavor

Joko Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

By nature, romantic comedy is a film genre bound with predictability -- crowd-pleasing with an ending likely to be about two lovebirds who finally unite. But what matters is, the journey that brings them together.

Some writers can still come up with fresh ideas to keep the love struck characters apart, at least until several minutes before the end credits roll.

Meg Ryan meets Tom Hanks near the end of Sleepless in Seattle (1993), while Marisa Tomei has to embark on a hilarious adventure to Europe to find her soul mate in Only You (1994).

Some romantic comedies try to avoid the predictability, the thing which makes My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) a clever movie.

Even when writers cannot come up with something new, there are ways -- like by giving them interesting obstacles, which make the film worth sitting through the end. Last year's hit Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? (What's Up With Cinta) is a perfect example. Ample chemistry between the two leads makes the movie the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Indonesian film in recent memory.

Unfortunately, Rumah Ketujuh (the Seventh House) that was made by the same team which came up with Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? fails to match expectations.

Even before the film ends, audience can really smell how it will end. That's OK. But the real problem is, the film does not offer an interesting journey or characters we care for.

Crippled by lack of sparks and humor that misses the mark, the movie does not have sufficient qualities to work as a romantic comedy. It's surprisingly stale despite its pedigree (its usually reliable producers) and it fails to evoke any tangible emotions.

The opening scene shows the two main characters, Cakra and Lintang, in their childhood days, playing by a lake. Instead of planting characters in their roles with the right dialog, they simply call each other's names.

The two kids then enter an old, seemingly unoccupied house where they find an astrological item hanging on the wall. An unkempt old man then enters, followed by the opening credits.

At that time, the members of the audience are already scratching their heads, trying to figure out the essence of the sequence.

The six-minute opening titles are then followed by a long scene involving adult Cakra (Indra Birowo) and Lintang (Dewi Rezer) who now own a VCD rental together.

The movie is just about to become interesting as the two talk about movies, astrology and dreams. Unfortunately, at times, the scene makes one more puzzled than amused due to its inconsistencies.

Cakra loves science fiction films and hisses romantic comedies (but he believes he will find his soul mate the way he keeps seeing her in dreams!). He also strongly objects to Lintang's faith in astrology but he believes in dream interpretations?

And they keep calling their business "laser (disc) rental" while it is clearly VCD rental chain Diskmart?

It is hard not to compare Rumah Ketujuh with recently released local romantic comedy Andai Ia Tahu (If He Only Knew), which, despite a lukewarm response from critics, gained a decent commercial success.

While Andai Ia Tahu humbly plays as a harmless feather-light romantic comedy, Rumah Ketujuh tries too hard to be a smart one.

Lintang finds a girlfriend who is described as immature simply because she likes N Sync, Backstreet Boys and Leonardo Di Caprio! As a result, we laugh at the movie, not with the movie.

Still, the actors give a decent performance even though the script only gives them the chance to run the gamut of expressions from A to B. Its only virtue is its music by renowned jazz musician Indra Lesmana who composes several songs for the film.

Planned as a TV movie, which was shot before Ada Apa Dengan Cinta? with additional scenes shot later, it's hard to understand why the celebrated producers had to give this unromantic, mildly funny comedy a big screen release. Maybe, even the most talented people have the right to flunk, once or twice.

Rumah Ketujuh (The Seventh House); Romance/Comedy, 85 minutes ** (out of four stars); Starring Indra Birowo, Dewi Rezer, Andara Early, M. Gary Iskak, Wilza Lubis; Directed by Rudi Sudjarwo; A Miles Films Presentation