Slight and familiar but sweet enough for Saturday night, Before We Go is the umpteenth re-up of Brief Encounter, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's also the directing debut of Chris Evans, and quite possibly an effort to run as far from Captain America as he can, into a chatty two-hander whose only action is a late-night ramble around New York City.
Evans stars as Nick, a lovelorn trumpet player who bumps into Brooke (Alice Eve), a distraught stranger who has lost her Prada purse at Grand Central Station. After some knightly grandstanding by Nick and some requisite mutual mistrust, the two wander around a prettily lit Manhattan all night, trading charming banter while nurturing trust and chemistry. That's pretty much it, unless you count a few chaste adventures in hotel rooms and basements, mostly to make something happen. Though really, nothing much needs to happen here, since every brief encounter worth its salt is all about the banter, which is pertly written here, with occasional gusts of genuine feeling, by veteran screenwriter Ron Bass with Jen Smolka.
Nick and Brooke come weighed down with issues. He's carried a torch for a former love for a staggering six years, which probably happens more often than we think. Brooke is stuck, she thinks, in a failing marriage to a man who's given her ample reason to feel unsafe. There's a letter to be delivered, or not, and a party to attend, or not. So, choices, and this is the kind of film where wisdom emanates from a chance meeting with a psychic (John Cullum) who knows he can't predict a thing, yet understands people.
Evans and Eve make a fetching couple, diligently working that old Hollywood magic trick of two ultra-glam stars convincing us that they and their dilemmas are as ordinary, and as unique, as those of you and me and everyone we know. Evans can do twinkly and rueful in his sleep, and he's fun to watch flashing shy bedroom eyes. Eve is charming too, but it's a pity that this astute actress who works from the inside out (if you want to see layers, watch her run rings around Stanley Tucci in Neil LaBute's psychological death match, Some Velvet Morning) has little to do here but play a standard Hollywood Dream Girl learning what it means to truly love.
Capably directed by Evans with a few formal flourishes to relieve the chatter, Before We Go doesn't add up to much more than a starter film, even a vanity project by an actor who will be honorably remembered for his comic book roles. But it's also a perfectly serviceable reminder of why we never stop loving the romantic brief encounter, in which we get to do what can't be done in life — take the road not traveled and still fulfill mature obligation. And what's a movie romance for, if not to have love's cake and eat it too?