When I was a youngster, I flew on a plane with my aunt Carol. The in-flight movie was Chances Are, starring Robert Downey Jr., Cybill Shepherd, and Ryan O’Neal. The movie was released in 1989, during a phase in Hollywood when there were a lot of movies about people switching bodies and time-traveling and coming back as ghosts and such. I’ll summarize the premise of Chances Are briefly and concisely:
- Louie and Corinne are a young couple madly in love in the 1960s.
- They get married, then they’re expecting a baby.
- Then Louie gets hit by a car and dies.
- Louie goes to the place in the clouds where souls are reincarnated, and his soul returns to Earth in a newborn human.
- Twenty-two years later, he’s Alex (Robert Downey Jr.), newly graduated from college and looking for a job in journalism. At this point, he has no memory of his previous life.
- Then he meets Miranda, his previous-self’s daughter, and soon after that he meets Philip, his previous-self’s best friend.
- They introduce him to Corinne.
- Then he remembers his past life.
- By the way, Miranda has the hots for him.
- And by the way, Philip has been madly in love with Corinne this whole time.
I guess that wasn’t so easy to summarize briefly and concisely.
Anyway, one thing leads to another, and eventually Corinne realizes that Alex is actually the reincarnation of her dead husband Louie, so they begin dating. Which, of course, is complicated by the fact that their daughter is into Louie/Alex, and Philip is dying to profess his love to Corinne.
On that flight all those years ago, I watched the movie and enjoyed it… right up until a scene where Louie/Alex and Corinne find themselves alone in their house, and set out to consummate their reunion. They kiss a lot, and there are some shots of belts un-clasping and shirts dropping to the floor. As directed by Emile Ardolino (This was his next film after Dirty Dancing!), it’s pretty tame and tasteful. Enough so that film is rated PG.
But Aunt Carol didn’t know it was PG, and she had no way of knowing how far that scene was going to go, and I was still an innocent child. So she covered my eyes, and encouraged me to read the book I had brought. I actually don’t remember whether I resumed watching after the kissing scene, but as years went by, I forgot most of the details. I only had vague memories of a Cybill Shepherd movie about reincarnation.
Eventually, in the Google Age, I was able to figure out what the movie was called. And now we’ve entered the IMDB Freedive Age — the age in which, while idly clicking through the Amazon Fire TV menu, I recently discovered an Amazon channel sponsored by IMDb that’s full of movies you can watch for free, as long as you don’t mind sitting through commercials for detergent and smart speakers. And there was Chances Are! What are the chances? So I watched it.
It’s not bad! It’s not great, but it’s not bad. It’s pretty hard to get past the part of the premise where a guy’s daughter unwittingly lusts after him, but it helps that his memory returns early on so he avoids doing anything untoward. There are elements of Back to the Future, Always, Ghost, and of course Oh! Heavenly Dog, that classic comedy where Chevy Chase dies and comes back as Benji. Chances Are is not as good as all of those other films. But Chances Are manages to do its own thing by balancing the romantic elements with the comedy. You pretty much root for all the characters to somehow end up happy, even the somewhat lunkheaded Ryan O’Neal character. The ending is not 100% satisfying, but it wraps everything up neatly.
Robert Downey Jr. is the MVP of the movie. He strikes the right balance as the reincarnated nice guy who alternates between goofy and dashing, and back to goofy. He does some great physical stuff, especially in a scene where he dances with the rich lady whose donation Corrine needs to keep her museum exhibition open. I guess I haven’t seen much of Cybill Shepherd’s work, but she’s pretty good here at displaying Corinne’s various inner conflicts.
There are way too many remakes these days, but I’d be curious to see how modern filmmakers would handle the same basic premise. There are a few beats that would not be done the same way today, mostly involving characters showing up in bedrooms where they’re not expected. One might want to drop the whole daughter thread altogether. But this isn’t a beloved classic, so Chances Are no one would care if a new version made a few changes for the better.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I did watch the kissing scene this time. I don’t think it destroyed my innocence. Much.