Recovering co-dependent Ruby Weaver has such bad luck with men that she and her girlfriends keep a shoebox of photos called "The Ex Files."
In the beginning of "Happy Accidents," writer-director Brad Anderson ("Next Stop Wonderland," "Session 9") shows us a comical montage of progressively eccentric examples: The Bad Actor, the Artist, the Fetishist, the Frenchman, the Junkie and the Abductee, who thought he'd been kidnapped by aliens.
Ruby (Marisa Tomei in an amusingly harried performance) hopes she's seen the worst of this trend and is, with the help of her intrusive therapist (the wonderfully wry Holland Taylor), beginning to curb her pathological urge to try to fix men that are beyond repair.
Then she meets Sam (Vincent D'Onofrio), a sweetly romantic, utterly awkward oddball, and a fixer-upper of an entirely different kind -- he claims, with complete sincerity, to be from the distant future.
Sam doesn't tell her this right away, of course. But after noting that many everyday things seem foreign to him -- he doesn't how to work a record player, he's absolutely terrified of small dogs -- and wondering about his bar-code tattoo, Ruby starts asking pointed questions. She's determined to weed out why this guy is so weird before she finds herself in love with another delusional loser. (Co-dependent that she is, Ruby has already let him move into her apartment.)
As evidenced in "Next Stop Wonderland," Anderson has a knack for nailing both the inner sweetness and the outer cynicism of his amour-impaired heroines. He also understands how to lend a strange magnetism to a man like Sam, a whacko that any sensible woman would run away from as fast as she could. Sam is bizarrely but endearingly out of sync with the world (D'Onofrio's performance strikes a deft balance), and while what Ruby sees in this guy isn't entirely clear, you still feel the attraction.
But "Happy Accidents" does have a near-fatal flaw: It's so enamoured of its quirky charm that it lets its sci-fi-like elements grow distractingly and annoyingly implausible. Sam's futuristic claims may intentionally lack cohesion and credibility to nudge the audience toward believing that he's nuts -- even though we see him succumb to spells during which time runs backwards, a kind of hangover from "back-traveling" he says.
If that's the case, however, Anderson takes it too far, unintentionally inviting the audience to nit-pick everything Sam says about the future and his purpose in the present (to save Ruby's life after falling in love with her picture). Doing so uncovers dozens of glaring logical rifts, even in the fantastical claims we're supposed to believe.
The film's structure is also noticeably unsound, from the therapy session narration (the shrink would have already known most of what Ruby says in voice-over) to the undercooked and gimmicky crutch the story uses to limp to its full-circle finale. It's pretty clear Anderson was more interested in the love story than in the picture's science fiction merits.
"Happy Accidents" has a sense of humor and a good-natured warmth -- stemming mostly from the appealingly peculiar performances -- that make its shortcomings easier to forgive. But those shortcomings might never have been if Anderson had taken another pass at the script from an analytical, instead of a romantic, point of view.