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Review by Jay Rittenberg

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Directed by: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
Written by: Terry McMillan, Ron Bass
Starring: Angela Bassett, Whoopi Goldberg, Regina King, Suzzanne Douglas, and Taye Diggs

It was refreshing to see Hollywood give the 20-year-age difference some equal air time last August. "Six Days Seven Nights," not only continued to demonstrate that Anne Heche has talent but that superstar Harrison Ford (despite that questionable piece of jewelry) looks great even into his mid-50s. Not to be outdone, the suits over at 20th Century Fox asked novelist Terry McMillan (along with writer Ron Bass) to script a big screen version of her bestseller "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" with feature-film novice Kevin Rodney Sullivan at the helm.

This December/May, older-woman-meets-younger-man romance is not as sharply written or dynamic as McMillan's "Waiting to Exhale" (also starring Angela Bassett), but it's still entertaining as we enjoy seeing this woman in her 40s start over, turn the tables on life, and fall in love again.

Poor Stella! Actually, "poor" may be a bad choice of words since Stella (Bassett) is, in fact, a very successful stockbroker who takes home six figures a year. Her killer instincts have actually helped her brokerage firm reach the top of the business world. Unfortunately, this divorced, lonely, single mom has made work a significant part of her entire existence, causing her to loss motivation to enjoy anything else in life.

But Stella has a bosom buddy, Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg), who finally convinces her to tag along on a quickie getaway to Jamaica while her 11-year-old son (Michael J. Pagan) is vacationing with his father.

It doesn't take long for the stunning and physically fit Stella (she has abs to die for!) to catch the eye of local hunk Winston Shakespeare (newcomer Taye Diggs, in an appealing performance). Stella simply wants to enjoy her vacation in peace, but persistent, he finds a way to win her heart. There's just one little problem with this picture perfect romance -- that pesky age difference. Even though she's fallen for him and that he's wise beyond his years, Stella still has a hard time with it.

It's easy to see how this high-powered business executive is having trouble accepting the age difference. Delilah acknowledges the fact that Winston was a major catch, but even she didn't expect them to become an item. Her two sassy sisters, played by Regina King (who turned in a bravo performance as Cuba Gooding, Jr's wife in "Jerry Maguire") and Suzzanne Douglas, of course play the obligatory disapproving sisters, and Winston's own parents peg her as a cradle robber.

After the passion cools down between the film's attractive headliners, they try to make sense of their so-called relationship. The barriers and obstacles of their generation gap, which was not so evident in the Caribbean, start to emerge back in the real world, challenging the couple to examine what they have. Although Stella has successfully negotiated numerous million-dollar deals in her life, this is a challenge that she is hesitant to accept and not sure she can handle.

Beautiful locales (book me on a trip to Jamaica!), a soothing reggae soundtrack, solid acting, and nice chemistry between the leads sold me on this sultry soap opera.

Bassett is a rare breed in Hollywood, an actress who never has to rely on her exquisite looks since her acting ability and fierce intensity equals her physical beauty. Completely believable as a workaholic who's forgotten what love is all about., her portrayal of an established woman who overanalyzes her every move is solid. Just as impressive is her costar Diggs, who shines even though his role was more or less limited to him being a boy toy. Here he stretched beyond his character's limitations and made me believe that he was much more than just a romantic interlude for Stella. Whoopi Goldberg, in a brief outing, supplies the film its much needed comedic chops with some precious one-liners (many of them geared at young Diggs).

It's pretty easy to comprehend why the lead in the film, which is based on McMillan's real life romantic interlude with a young Jamaican, feels uneasy about falling in love with a man who religiously eats Cocoa Puffs and hasn't had his heart broken yet. She brings up the point that fuels the film, can they have a life together besides the sex?

Don't expect any heavy-duty answers here because this is not an intense film -- it's supposed to make you feel good, and like Ford and Heche's romantic fable, it's good enjoyable escapist entertainment.

"How Stella Got Her Groove Back" is a charming, romantic love story in which the main character finally learns not to try to come up with simple answers, but to let things take their course while listening to her heart. Despite an enormous gap of years, Stella and Winston make an interesting and appealing "Moonstruck" love connection.

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