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"MUMFORD"
(1999) (Loren Dean, Hope Davis) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A small town psychiatrist, whose methods of helping his patients are often quite unorthodox, soon finds his practice in jeopardy when a few people begin questioning his credentials.
PLOT:
In the small, quaint town of Mumford, Dr. Mumford (LOREN DEAN) may have only beenthere for four months, but his psychology practice is already the most popular around. Although his curt, no- nonsense approach may seem unorthodox, he has many loyal patients, including pharmacist Henry Follett (PRUITT TAYLOR VINCE), who never accurately portrays himself in his film noir fantasies, and Althea Brockett (MARY McDONNELL), whose mail order obsession has her investor husband, Jeremy (TED DANSON), and their children, Martin (JASON RITTER) and Katie (ELISABETH MOSS), concerned about her.

Then there's Sofie Crisp (HOPE DAVIS), whose lethargic depression has forced her to move back in with her parents, rebellious teenager Nessa Watkins (ZOOEY DESCHANEL), and local modem king and multibillionaire, Skip Skipperton (JASON LEE), who believes he harbors a perverted secret.

Of course, not everyone is happy with Mumford's approach, and one disgruntled patient, Lionel Dillard (MARTIN SHORT), sets out to ruin the psychologist's career. Meeting with the town's other "shrinks," Dr. Phyllis Sheeler (JANE ADAMS) and Dr. Ernest Delbanco (DAVID PAYMER), Lionel begins to raise doubts about Mumford's credentials.

As time wears on, Mumford -- who spends his off-time watching the TV program, "Unsolved Mysteries" when not hanging out with Lily (ALFRE WOODARD), his landlady who's given up on men realizes he must not only deal with the rising doubts about his practice, but also with his attraction to one of his clients and the fact that her harbors his own deep, dark secret.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In today's increasingly stressful world, it's of little surprise that the practices of mental health practitioners -- be they psychiatrists, psychologists or general therapists and counselors -- are booming like never before. It's somewhat ironic, however, that the multitude of patients who essentially "spill their guts" and reveal their deepest and most intimate thoughts and secrets during their sessions, usually know next to nothing about those recording such information on the other side of the couch.

While most practitioners are obviously legit, there's always the possibility that some quack has sneaked in, marketed him or herself as a professional and opened up shop -- for reasons only known to them. That's the moderately fun gist of "Mumford," the tale of a psychologist whose straightforward, no- nonsense approach to treating patients eventually raises some suspicion among others about his credentials.

As written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan -- the multifaceted filmmaker who first broke onto the scene by writing the first "Raiders of the Lost Ark" script before going on to direct such notable films like "The Big Chill" and "The Accidental Tourist" -- however, the film never manages to build into the clever comedy it initially seems destined to be.

Like the sedate title character, the film never gets out of second gear and one gets the impression that a prescription of Valium has been administered to it, thus sedating its potential. That's not to say that the film is bad or even boring -- in fact, it easily holds one's interest throughout. It's just that it never hits its full comedic stride and/or potential and instead just sort of shuffles along at its own leisurely pace from start to finish.

Part of that's due to the way in which the title character is portrayed. While Loren Dean ("Gattaca," "Billy Bathgate") delivers a winning and entertaining performance, the appropriate way in which he plays Mumford -- calm and passively reactive (notwithstanding him occasionally being fed up with a few clients) -- means that the film consequently lacks any real zest. Of course comedies don't need to be wild and crazy affairs to work, but a more energetic approach here clearly would have benefitted this film.

Another problem is that the cat (in this case, the big secret) is let out of the bag way too soon and without a credible catalyst to instigate the revelation. While Kasdan is obviously doing this to give the audience superior position -- where we know more than most of the characters -- and thus elicit humor from this knowledge, that approach is only moderately successful.

With many characters questioning -- seriously or not -- the doc's credentials before the big news is revealed, it seems that the continuation of that tactic may have worked better. It certainly would have kept the audience more actively involved in the proceedings, wondering exactly what was up with the character.

Since a confirmation occurs late in the film that allows everyone in on the secret, that would have been the perfect time to "spill the beans" and clearly would have had a greater "bombshell" effect than the unrealistic way in which it's presented here. Of course all of that's just my personal opinion and reflects my taste in how such stories should unfold, and isn't meant to infer that such "problems" derail the film.

What the film does have going for it is a well cast and diverse group of actors and actresses inhabiting the roles of the townsfolk who are either affected by or are patients of Mumford. While few will be surprised to discover that the film is filled with such idiosyncratic and occasionally eccentric characters, the way in which they're drawn and portrayed constantly keeps the film entertaining in a light-fashioned manner.

The best comes from Jason Lee ("Kissing a Fool," "Chasing Amy") as the town's lovable but somewhat offbeat billionaire. Although a brief subplot involving his creation of automated sex dolls comes out of the blue in a jarring fashion, Lee brings enough charm and a combination of youthful exuberance and shy innocence to his character to make him the most enjoyable of the lot.

Good turns are also delivered by Mary McDonnell ("Dances With Wolves," "Grand Canyon") as a shop by mail order junkie, Pruitt Taylor Vince ("Heavy," "Dr. Dolittle") as a man with lusty film noir-like fantasies (the only times when the film exhibits any real spark), and Hope Davis ("Arlington Road," "Next Stop, Wonderland") playing a lethargic young woman and looking and acting a lot like a young Teri Garr. Other performances from the likes of Alfre Woodard ("Down in the Delta"), David Paymer ("Mr. Saturday Night") and Martin Short (the "Father of the Bride" films) are all decent.

Charming and occasionally funny, this is one of those films that's just sort of there and is neither great nor terrible. Easy enough to watch and sit through without ever get antsy, but just as easily forgettable not long after you see it, this picture has enough entertainment value to earn a passing score. Even so, one senses that it could have been so much more, particularly considering the talent in front of and behind the camera. Thus, we give "Mumford" a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed September 18, 1999 / Posted September 24, 1999


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