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Sunday, April 15, 2018 by Kurac

You can hear lots of hearty laughter from the kitchen of O'Reilly's, the Irish-Italian restaurant in ''Return to Me,'' a faltering new romantic comedy directed by Bonnie Hunt. It's about a heart, and an irreplaceable, deep-seated love that can be passed from one person to another. At least, this love can be passed from a heart's donor, Elizabeth, to its recipient, Grace (Minnie Driver). After Elizabeth dies in a car accident, the sickly Grace gets her heart, and a wondrous romance begins to bloom between Grace and Elizabeth's husband, Bob (David Duchovny).

Probably few actresses convey bemused decency as quickly, or as well, as the actress and comic performer Bonnie Hunt. In her directorial debut, her willingness to buff off all the sharp edges of this story of star-crossed spirits makes a picture that's very easygoing -- far too easygoing. It's as if she were out to make the film child-proof. (The opening credit sequence tries to create a lost-in-love fabric, with a generic overhead shot of Chicago's concrete canyons and with Dean Martin's confidently slumming his way through the song ''Return to Me,'' showing only that this once-underphotographed city is now dangerously close to being overexposed.)

Weightless and polite when it means to be magical and gentle, ''Return to Me'' is a piece of fruit gone soft from being off the vine too long. It's top-loaded with Dean Martin songs, including a soapy version of the title tune that sounds as if it's emanating from the eight-track of your father's Oldsmobile.

Bob is a builder and architect who's madly in love with his late wife and has to be forced into dating by the requisite best friend, Charlie (David Alan Grier). When Bob joins Charlie on the set-up date at O'Reilly's, where Grace is a waitress, he and she first see each other, and he goes after her, without knowing she now has his wife's heart.

Fox Mulder, Mr. Duchovny's dour character on ''The X-Files,'' has probably never done anything so mundane as consume a meal on camera, but Bob seems determined to engage in quotidian behavior in ''Return to Me.'' Mr. Duchovny eats, dissolves into tears after his wife's death and breaks into smiles in this movie more often than he has during the entire seven-year run of ''The X-Files.'' The real case of science fiction here is Ms. Driver's Grace, who has apparently been unable to get a date, ever. That's more unbelievable than the convenient circumstances of Elizabeth's heart dropping right into her lap, so to speak. Ms. Driver's sultry pluck would get her more play than a Nintendo, but in the sweetheart's dance of ''Return to Me'' she's waiting for her prince to come.

In O'Reilly's kitchen, her overprotective grandfather, Marty (Carroll O'Connor), and his best friend and chef, Angelo (Robert Loggia), worry and commiserate about her life. So does her best friend, played by Ms. Hunt, who has enough to concern herself with. She has a movie to direct, and she does so in a way so nice-guyish that it's nondescript.

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http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9900E7DC133FF934A35757C0A9669C8B63