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TOWN & COUNTRY

by: Michael Dequina

By now, everyone's heard all the bad industry buzz surrounding Town & Country, a planned 1999 release that is only now seeing the inside of movie houses. Such a checkered production history is bound to color many reviewers' opinions, but don't dismiss the sure-to-be bad notices as just a byproduct of predisposed bias--any pan is completely deserved, for this infidelity comedy certainly bears the lack of fizz so characteristic of films left on the shelf way too long.

To be fair, Town & Country doesn't start off too bad though certainly not on the most promising note. Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton are Porter and Ellie, and Goldie Hawn and Garry Shandling are Mona and Griffin. The two are longtime married couples, and the four are longtime friends. However, their seemingly idyllic existence in New York's trendy upper class gets upended when Mona spies Griffin in an extramarital dalliance. This development leads all four, in particular Porter, to ponder their marital arrangements and the idea of love in general.

The early stages of the film are certainly tolerable even if director Peter Chelsom and writers Michael Laughlin and Buck Henry show a peculiar slant toward broad silliness. Henry himself has an amusing cameo role as a divorce attorney, and a dinner scene efficiently shows Porter's increasing awkwardness with the life he feels trapped in. The actors manage to maintain dignity even as Chelsom uses the strange technique of ending numerous scenes on a forced note of slapstick: a golf ball hits a man in the buttocks; a man rolls off a bed; a man falls off a roof.

Given that last touch, perhaps the track Town & Country ultimately takes isn't exactly unexpected, but how quickly and completely the film derails is. The turn takes place when Griffin and Porter, who has now broken his own marriage vows by bedding a cellist (Nastassja Kinski), go on vacation to Sun Valley, Idaho. Here Porter also attracts the attention of a bait shop clerk (Jenna Elfman) and, most unfortunately, a quirky heiress (Andie MacDowell) with even quirkier parents (Charlton Heston and Marian Seldes). Suddenly what had at least tried to be a somewhat thoughtful comic look at marriage devolves into overwrought sitcom contrivance, with characters coincidentally running into each other in restrooms and Heston blowing up cabins and showing up at a black-tie function with a big gun. It's even stranger than--though not as interesting as--it sounds.

So what exactly is the point of Town & Country? My best guess is to serve as some bizarre cinematic time warp for the three aging main stars. In Hawn's case, this is a good thing--in the physical shape of someone half her age, she still looks good in tight jeans and tank tops. For the other two, however, it's more of a failed attempt to recapture and/or maintain their youth. A near-quarter-century after the fact, Keaton's Annie Hall garb is far more tired than trendy, but she still insists on keeping the look. More pathetic, though, is Beatty, who despite having a (reportedly) happy marriage, obviously wants to perpetuate his desirable ladies' man image, what with no less than three younger women showing interest in his character.

Such indulgences are far from what make Town & Country a dud. Simply put, it's supposed to be a comedy, but there really isn't anything funny about it--except the fact that, after all the expense and time New Line spent on the film, it's likely to be forgotten by moviegoers within a month.

RATING: ** (out of *****)

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