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STARRING: Marisa Tomei, Vincent D'Onofrio, Holland Taylor

DIRECTOR: Brad Anderson

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

RATING: R for rough and suggestive language

THE LOWDOWN: Hardluck single meets the strangest dude in Manhattan

Ruby isn't exactly flourishing in the Manhattan singles life. Not only is she the kind of girl who gets fired from her job as a phone directory assistant because she's too friendly, she's also the kind who seems to attract every flake, weirdo and bad-news bear in the five boroughs. (She takes them home every bloody time.)

This is how bad it is for her: her shrink tells her, in so many words, she's just a co-dependency waiting to happen. When she and her girlfriends get together to commiserate over their most recent guy follies, they all put pictures of boyfriends past in a shoe box they call "The Ex Files."

You guessed it - Ruby has more pictures of her louts and losers in the files than anyone else.

Then, one day, a sweet fellow on a park bench points to a nurse helping an old man with a walker getting into a van. "Old folks are great," he says. "You should hear their stories." As sensitive pickup lines go, almost anyone would have to rate that a solid A, maybe even A-plus.

He scores well with her in other ways, too. "Would you like to listen to music tomorrow night?" he asks. She says yes and gets all dolled up to go out to a club. He shows up with an LP turntable and a stack of 33-rpm records on top of which is something called "Polka Party."

Well, he's from Dubuque. You know? Never mind that he's played by Vincent D'Onofrio, an actor who practically has a map of New York printed on his face. He starts grooving to the polka music while sipping her Merlot. "Is this your typical musical taste?" she asks.

It gets worse. Yes, he sleeps over. It turns out he has a bar code tatooed on his arm and mutters things like "break the causal chain" in his sleep. He also secretly pops Dramamine like Tic Tacs.

It all hits the fan a bit later when he breaks down and tells her his story: He is, he says, a time traveler from the 25th century, when, because of Sci-Fi-type doings, Dubuque is located on the Atlantic Coast.

She realizes that she has finally done it; she has finally hooked up with the craziest weirdo in all of New York. She's won the Mega Booby prize. She perseveres, though, even past the wonderful moment when he meets her Mom and Dad, forks a lovely asparagus stalk and says, "These are nice pickles."

You have no idea how much I wish "Happy Accident" were all about the comic travails of the oddest courtship in New York's singles scene. No such luck.

What takes over after that is an "is he or isn't he" sci-fi tale that's supposed to keep us guessing and lamenting the course of true love in the middle of all the droll gags. Your attentions may wander as things get serious.

Still, Ruby is played by the always lovable Marisa Tomei, her beau is played by the always charismatic D'Onofrio and the shrink is played by Holland Taylor, fondly remembered as the lascivious Judge Kittleson on "The Practice."

And how can you not feel affection for a movie whose hero tells you that the whole plot is going to be an experiment something he calls the "Cheeseman Theory of Time and Space?"

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