Once they become "celebrities," some Hollywood types like to hang around race-car drivers. Others prefer tennis players. Or boxers. Billy Crystal claims to have played a little hoop back in high school on Long Island, so the jocks he sniffs from one end of Tinseltown to the other are NBA stars.

Forget Paris is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but the real reason for its existence is clearly Crystal's basketball fantasy. He's not tall enough to be a player, so he's cooked up a role for himself as a neurotic NBA referee named Mickey Gordon, a man who loves his job but can't get his marriage to work. And that gives him a chance to call giants like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson by their first names in the game sequences and to blow his little whistle in their faces.

Otherwise, the former Saturday Night Live regular displays his shortcomings in all the major moviemaking functions. He's the movie's co-writer, producer and director, as well as the alleged leading man, so there's no one else to blame for this awful load of dreck.

Not his old writing mates from City Slickers and Mr. Saturday Night, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Not poor Joe Mantegna, who's stuck in the part of Mickey's best-friend-the-sportswriter. Not even Debra Winger, who's saddled with the unenviable task of appearing to fall in love with the annoying hero.

Mickey and Ellen meet under circumstances that strain credulity, to say the least. He accompanies the body of his unloved father to Paris to be buried among his old army buddies; her airline misplaces the casket. Voila! Romance on the banks of the Seine. There's no point trying to decide which is more inept--Crystal's lame wisecracks ("I don't like the Swiss--they punched holes in my cheese") or his clunky storytelling. Forget Paris lumbers along for 95 minutes, but it seems like 295, so irritating are the supposedly lovable Mickey and Ellen, and so leaden are their domestic misadventures once the Paris fling is over.

To make matters worse, this supposedly winning tale of incompatibility, infertility and love conquering all is presented as a series of flashbacks. In the absence of the principals, Mickey and Ellen's friends--Mantegna, Richard Masur, Julie Kavner, John Spencer, Cathy Moriarty--sit around a restaurant table talking about the ups and downs of the romance, and Crystal in turn inflicts these upon us with the grim determination of a dentist performing a root canal.

This kind of comedy calls for a touch Crystal will likely never have, but that doesn't seem to bother him. He's obviously in this for the basketball sequences, and the kid-at-the-amusement-park glee he takes in pretending to throw Kareem Abdul Jabbar out of a crucial game or pretending to jaw at Reggie Miller reeks of wish fulfillment. That's no surprise. If you've ever spent time around movie actors, you've seen the childlike quality that dominates so many of them: I'm big now, and I can buy all the toys I want.

This movie embodies that. It's neither a comedy nor a romance: It's an advertisement for a none-too-talented comic's vanity.


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