"You've Got Mail" is as pleasant, innocuous and ultimately hollow a romantic comedy as might be expected from the team behind 1993's slick blockbuster "Sleepless in Seattle." It's also one of those movies that doesn't quite practice what it preaches.
The glories of the printed word, for instance, are praised by Kathleen Kelly (ever-cutesy Meg Ryan), the owner of a small children's book store on Manhattan's Upper West Side and a devoted fan of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Her boyfriend, Frank (Greg Kinnear), is a newspaper columnist with a fetish for manual typewriters.
So how does Kathleen meet her soulmate, bookstore-chain owner Joe Fox (ever-sweet Tom Hanks)? In a chatroom on the Internet.
Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed this sure-fire hit after watching Ernst Lubitsch's similarly themed 1940 charmer "The Shop Around the Corner," also makes much ado about the attacks of corporate giants like Borders and Barnes & Noble on neighborhood book stores everywhere.
But the multifloor Fox Books looks much more comfortable, inviting and likely to carry anything a reader might want than its competition, founded 42 years ago by Kathleen's late mother. Joe, too, seems to enjoy the fruits of his labor, whether relaxing with girlfriend Patricia (Parker Posey) in their luxury suite, gazing at the New York skyline from the high-rise office he shares with dad (Dabney Coleman) and grandpa, or hanging out on one of the family's boats. But it's unlikely that the sensitive Kathleen will reject all those trappings if and when she consummates a personal merger with beer-drinking Joe.
"You've Got Mail," while not a remake of "Sleepless in Seattle," has Ephron, Hanks and Ryan offering a similar scenario. Kathleen and Joe, as is obvious from the first few frames, are made for each other and not for their respective partners. And as in "Sleepless," Hanks and Ryan spend the entire movie attempting to make the love connection. At first known to each other only by their AOL screen names, the two cross one another's paths on New York's sidewalks. Later, still in the dark about their e-mail identities, they engage in a fierce business rivalry. Joe, after figuring out the mystery, enjoys some semicruel fun before letting Kathleen in on the secret.
But "You've Got Mail" delivers something notably absent from the screen this holiday season: a genuine date movie.