It is the mid-1950s in Princeton, N.J., when a humble young auto mechanic named Ed Walters (Tim Robbins) sets eyes on Catherine Boyd (Meg Ryan) and falls immediately in love. He hardly seems to notice her supercilious fiance (Stephen Fry) — all he sees is Catherine. But to Ed's dismay, Catherine hardly seems to notice him.
Later, when Ed goes to Catherine's home to return something she left at the shop, who should open the door but Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau)! Ed is awestruck to find that Einstein is Catherine's uncle — and finds it somewhat daunting to discover that Catherine herself is a brilliant mathematician.
Though he feels inadequate, Ed feels sure that he and Catherine are meant to be together and with her uncle's help, he sets out to prove it to her. Naturally, romantic complications ensue . . . but in this case, there are also intellectual complications.
Such is the setup for "I.Q.," a delightfully low-key romantic comedy (that brings "Sleepless in Seattle" to mind), with Ed being taken under Einstein's wing as they come up with a preposterous charade to win Catherine over. Helping out . . . sort of . . . are Einstein's equally brainy and eccentric pals, Godel (Lou Jacobi), Podolsky (Gene Saks) and Liebknecht (Joe Maher).
The charade involves this aging foursome assisting science-fiction nut Ed with a formula for cold fusion, which could lead to nuclear rocket power. And, eventually, even President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Keene Curtis) gets involved!
Robbins (who co-stars in "Ready to Wear," which also opens Sunday) is warm and unassuming as mild-mannered Ed, a gentle fellow who is convinced that he and Catherine are meant to be together.
Ryan's Catherine is highly intelligent, easily distracted and a bit ditsy — and the actress' ability to project intelligence and wackiness at the same time is wonderful to watch. (She is a master of delayed reaction.) In fact, every time she's on camera the screen just seems to light up.
Though initially it may seem like odd casting, Matthau is perfect as Einstein, making the character his own. And veterans Jacobi, Saks and Maher are also wonderful.
Balancing all of this in a somewhat delicate, always humorous fashion is director/co-producer Fred Schepisi ("A Cry in the Dark," "Roxanne"), working from a screenplay by Andy Breckman ("True Identity") and Michael Leeson ("The War of the Roses"). They have managed to come up with a winning story, wonderful characters and a blend of romance and comedy that clicks from beginning to end.
It's also good to report that this is one of those rare movies (these days, anyway), which has a wonderfully sunny disposition, focuses on decent people and gets its laughs naturally, without anything feeling forced and generally avoiding insulting one-liners.
"I.Q." is rated PG for some mild profanity, a couple of sexual double-entendres and a bit of mild violence.