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(2001) (Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton) (R)

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Comedy: After two men cheat on their wives by having affairs with others, they try to figure out what to do and how to get on with their lives.
Porter Stoddard (WARREN BEATTY) is a successful Manhattan architect who's just had an affair with Alex (NASTASSJA KINSKI), a beautiful cellist. While he's successful at hiding that from Ellie (DIANE KEATON), his wife of twenty-five years, his best friend, Griffin (GARRY SHANDLING), isn't as good at keeping his trysts secret from his wife, Mona (GOLDIE HAWN), who's recently followed him and discovered his affair.

While she doesn't realize that his lover was actually a man, Mona proceeds with divorce arrangements with lawyer David "The Shark" Suttler (BUCK HENRY). Meanwhile, Porter tries to maintain his normal family routine - which is anything but - with his young adult kids, Tom (JOSH HARTNETT) and Alice (TRICIA VESSEY), their respective others, Holly (KATHERINE TOWNE) and Omar (MARC CASABANI), and his housekeeper, Yolanda (TERRI HOYOS) and her shirtless, jungle lover, Alejandro (DEL ZAMORA).

Deciding to help his longtime friend, Porter flies to Mississippi with Mona to one of her homes where they end up in bed together. When they return, they agree to act as if nothing happened, but Ellie has gotten wind of Porter's infidelities - with the cellist - and he soon joins his friend in the proverbial doghouse.

The two men then decide to get away from it all by vacationing in Griffin's cabin in Sun Valley, a ski resort where they meet Auburn (JENNA ELFMAN), a hardware store clerk who take them to a Halloween party, and Eugenie (ANDIE MacDOWELL), a pretty but ultimately strange woman whose wealthy parents (CHARLTON HESTON & MARIAN SELDES) are even more bizarre than her.

As Griffin tries to get up the courage to announce that he's gay, and Porter deals with the various women in his life, the two try to figure out what to do with their lives, all while their wives do the same.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
In Hollywood, money means everything, but it also means nothing. While the studios are concerned with how much any given film will gross domestically, internationally, on home video and all other ancillary markets, and many careers both in front of and behind the camera ride on just that, they'll throw millions and millions into making and promoting their latest effort, often as if money is no object.

A fair number of performers now earn $20 million or more per film, and we've all read about the lavish and extravagant needs of others who end up costing the studios - who foot the bills for their pampered and/or spoiled performers - a great deal of cash.

Of course, sometimes the excesses pay off, both for the studio's bottom line and the audience's enjoyment. Take "Titanic," for instance. It had a reported budget of something like $200 million. Yet, not only did it make that back and some more - okay, a lot more - but it also put that money on the screen and we, the viewers and critics, could easily see where all of it was spent.

On the flip side, there are films such as this week's release of "Town & Country." With a budget rumored in the $80 million plus range, the film seems unlikely to recoup its costs, and makes one question exactly how and where all of the money was spent. No, it's not an elaborate, period costume drama or an impressively staged war epic with a huge cast and expensive special effects.

Rather, it's an all-star comedy about the lives of a quartet of rich people and the various peccadilloes and affairs in their pampered lives. While the acting services of the likes of Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Gary Shandling clearly aren't cheap, we're not talking the sort of salaries normally associated with Tom, Julia and Mel, so there are still tens of millions of dollars to be accounted for.

It's possible that the money was spent to pamper the stars and get them in character to play these rich Manhattanites, but then again they're already accustomed to living a wealthy lifestyle that few of us will ever enjoy. One thing is clear, however, and that is that the writers - in this case Michael Laughlin ("Once Upon a time in Shanghai," "Mesmerized") and Buck Henry ("To Die For," "The Graduate") - were either overpaid for their services or, conversely, not paid enough to come up with a better script.

Reportedly sitting on the shelf for several years, and playing off the notion that we commoners enjoy seeing how the better half lives and then watching them succumb to the same human faults as the rest of us, the film starts off promisingly enough and its star power certainly helps in keeping the viewer engaged.

We quickly learn the two main male characters - played by Warren Beatty ("Bulworth," "Bugsy") and Garry Shandling ("What Planet Are You From?" "Hurlyburly") in parts best described as the types that play off the normal Beatty and Shandling character stereotypes -- are cheating on their wives with others.

That's all fine and dandy - at least from a comedy standpoint and the potential therein - as everyone reacts to the news and the participants' behavior and actions lead to some funny and farcical misdirection moments. Unfortunately, the story then takes a major detour - in both locale and better sense - and completely falls apart as it transports the two men to a snowy resort town. There, they're supposed to get their lives in order, but end up meeting various people who are introduced to the story apparently only so that they can all meet back up in Manhattan for a big comedic finale.

While there's obviously some potential - however limited it may be - in just such a set up, the only problem is that the ending not only is far too contrived and messy, but it's simply not that funny, which pretty much accurately describes most of the rest of the film.

Whether it's due to the screenplay as written, the dust from the film sitting on the shelf for so long, or reports that various reels of shot footage were stolen, lost (or probably wisely discarded by someone who saw what was on them) from a delivery van back in 1999, director Peter Chelsom ("The Mighty," "Funny Bones") loses control of this bloated production, allowing the story to get sloppy and dumb, and what little comedic momentum was present to wane and then completely evaporate.

Of course, there may be those who may enjoy seeing Jenna Elfman ("Keeping the Faith," EdTV") convincing Beatty and Shandling's characters to dress up for a Halloween party for no logical reason beyond us getting to see the former in a polar bear costume and the latter dressed like Elvis.

Then there's the realization that the character played by Andie MacDowell ("The Muse," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") is a kinky kook whose parents -- Marian Seldes ("Duets," "The Haunting") as a foul-mouthed old bitty in an out of control wheelchair and Charlton Heston ("Any Given Sunday," "Planet of the Apes") in an embarrassing bit as a gun-toting, medieval-minded nut - are far loonier than her. Oh, those wacky rich people, they're just so funny.

Most viewers, however, will wonder why all of those characters are suddenly thrust into the production and what they have to do with a story about infidelity. In fact, the film works best in its moments of misdirection, and it's too bad that the filmmakers abandoned such material and allowed the cheating to be discovered so soon. Part of the fun is in watching Beatty and the others squirm to cover up their wrongdoings, and that could have been used a while longer before getting old.

I kept waiting for the cello-playing paramour - embodied by Nastassja Kinski ("The Claim," "Playing By Heart") - to be hired for some function where Porter and his wife would attend, but alas, neither that nor any other fun complication is utilized. Instead, we get a lame story and various forced attempts at humor that most viewers will see right through and probably not find amusing.

To be fair, there are a few moments - early on - where some humorous material is present, but it, along with a whole slew of supporting performers, including Josh Hartnett ("Blow Dry," "Here on Earth"), is abandoned in favor of the ill-advised plot shift.

The bevy of stars - including Diane Keaton ("Hanging Up," the "Father of the Bride" movies) and Goldie Hawn ("The Out of Towners," "Bird on a Wire") as the cheated upon wives who coincidentally or not also appeared together as jilted wives in "The First Wives Club" - do make the film a bit easier to watch, but certainly make one wonder how all of them could have made the mistake of signing up for this mess.

It's just unfortunate that not as much energy was put into crafting a decent script so as to match the wattage from all of that star power, not to mention the mega million-dollar budget. With a misguided switch in story direction and a bunch of rich characters we ultimately don't care about, the film careens off the path to critical and box office success and results in a spectacular, Hollywood style crash. "Town & Country" might not be the worst movie you'll see all year, but it's certainly far from being even just good, and thus rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed April 25, 2001 / Posted April 27, 2001

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