On paper, at least, Travis Bickle was a catch. The lead character in "Taxi Driver" was a hard worker, drove a nice sedan, was mechanically inclined and had an interest in politics.
Unfortunately, he blew the most important part of any new relationship: the first-date movie. Instead of escorting Cybill Shepherd's Betsy character to something relatively harmless, he took her to the XXX Show and Tell theater to see the Swedish erotic film "The Language of Love." It's no coincidence that a few weeks later, he was shaving his hair into a Mohawk, plotting assassinations and waiting for a real rain to come and wash the scum off the street.
The first-date movie may be the single most important decision in any relationship. It sets the mood for the evening and sets the tone for all dates to come. The difference between Bob and Dolores Hope-style marital bliss and a Charlie Sheen-Denise Richards train wreck of a relationship is the difference between "Charlie Wilson's War" and "Saw IV."
You wouldn't fail to take a shower or escort your date to a McDonald's on a first date. So why would you bring him or her to see "Babylon A.D."? Think back to the worst first date that you've been on. Chances are good that it was accompanied by a completely horrendous movie. And yet you don't want too good a movie. Presumably, you're going to want to get to know this person better (or at the very least figure out when you'll be hooking up). Do you really want to dedicate the next hour to trying to figure out what happened in the last half of "Syriana"? This is getting complicated. Let's sort things out with a few first-date-movie rules:
Pay attention to the running time: Nobody in the history of first-date movies got any action while seeing "Gandhi" (unless it was during the intermission). Pick something in the 85- to 110-minute range.
Avoid hot actors: Bonus point if your movie stars mostly homely or slightly obnoxious actors, because you'll always look good by
comparison. This works for established couples, too. Nothing enlivens the marriage bed like a Paul Giamatti film festival.
Some bad movies are OK: You probably won't be paying attention to the movie anyway, so who cares if it's not going to win an Oscar. Pick something from the "forgettably bad" genre of movies -- kind of bad, but not so bad that it reflects poorly on you for selecting it. Most movies starring Matthew McConaughey or Cameron Diaz qualify as forgettably bad. Avoid anything starring Jessica Alba and Dane Cook.
Too much plot is a negative: The ideal first-date movie results in about five minutes of post-movie conversation.
Avoid animated films: Taking a first date to see "Kung Fu Panda" might seem like a good idea, but it sends the wrong message. Let him or her see your "cute" side later.
Content is key: Think "Little Children" is something he or she might enjoy? No one's in the mood to knock boots after watching a movie that focuses on child molesters, rapists, the Holocaust or an Al Gore PowerPoint presentation. Mainstream thrillers, comedies and PG-13 horror usually make the best first-date movies.
Stay away from porn: Or, for that matter, a repertory movie house showing of "Taxi Driver." Hard work, shared interests and the birth of our children all have played a factor in the success of my marriage. But I'm convinced that our happiness is mostly a product of our decision to see "Double Jeopardy" on our first date. It was an otherwise forgettable thriller with a Lifetime movie plot: A woman is framed for her husband's murder, but he faked his death, so she gets out of prison and tries to kill him for real. "Double Jeopardy" was 105 minutes long, was forgettably bad and starred Tommy Lee Jones -- one of the three or four best first-date movie actors of all time.
My all-time worst first-date movies included "Back to the Future II" (my date hadn't seen the first one) and "Rocky IV" (my sister drove us to the theater). I also once rented a DVD of "Eyes Wide Shut," a 159-minute piece of soul-crushingly boring cinema that proved that Stanley Kubrick should never ever be anybody's first-date movie director.
If she didn't walk out of my apartment during the opening credits, she probably should have.