Given director Rob Reiner’s recent output, not to mention a cringe-inducing poster of Morgan Freeman gazing beatifically up at the heavens, we’d be forgiven for thinking that the former Marty DiBergi’s latest feature would be more mawkish than magical. Make no mistake, the treacle is prevalent in this oh-so-uplifting tale of wheelchair-bound Western-adventure novelist Monte Wildhorn (Morgan Freeman) and the redemptive summer he spends in the eponymous community. Offenses first: Marc Shaiman’s score is more sugary than an IHOP pancake topping. A subplot involving a slow-witted neighbor boy is pure sentimental upchuck. And the bottom-of-the-barrel running gag involving a dog licking its own testicles to our protagonist’s continuing befuddlement? Let’s just say it leaves a lingering bad taste.
Now to the virtues—above all, every scene between Freeman and the luminous Virginia Madsen as divorcée and mother of three Charlotte O’Neil, whose attraction to her prickly next-door neighbor slowly, subtly intensifies as the season wanes. These two performers bring out the best in each other (especially during a dreamy, moving sequence in which the duo waltzes lakeside by moonlight), and Reiner, to his credit, shapes most of the film around their bewitchingly natural rhythm and rapport. Though the story’s wrapped-with-a-bow finale is never in doubt—ol’ Meathead remains a populist, pandering Hollywood man through and through—Belle Isle still manages to cast enough of an enchanting spell.
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