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    Analyze diss

    "Mumford," a talent-packed ensemble piece about small-town psychologists, still has some issues to work through.


    The town of Mumford is filled with so many cranks, oddballs, and eccentrics that it requires the services of not one but three licensed psychologists to keep all that angst in check. Actually, "licensed" is a bit of a stretch since the intriguing premise of Lawrence Kasdan's ("The Big Chill," "Silverado," "Grand Canyon") latest film is that one of these professionals is not exactly certified. So much for the drama; that "revelation" is out on the table simply from reading a 25-word synopsis.

    Written and directed by: Lawrence Kasdan.
    Cast: Loren Dean, Hope Davis, Jason Lee, Alfre Woodard, Mary McDonnell, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Zooey Deschanel, Martin Short, Ted Danson.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    So what else is left? Unfortunately, not much.

    Mumford strives for that same multi-character ensemble chic so glowingly realized by the likes of Robert Altman and Alan Rudolph. The feel of Kasdan's film, however, is more like an extended episode of Northern Exposure, where the good doctor gets to do his thing and say his piece and everyone around him grows a little in the process.

    The characters who frequent the couch of Dr. Mumford (peculiarly, the psychologist bears the same name of the town, but nothing really comes of that) are a wacky bunch, it's true. There's a sexually frustrated pharmacist (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who fantasizes in the style of those '50s dime-store paperbacks with names like Sucker Bait — "all I needed was a stiff drink, a cold shower, and a hot dame." There's a skateboarding head of a multinational modem conglomerate, played by "Chasing Amy" star Jason Lee. And there's a shy, delicate woman who's probably suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (Hope Davis).

    These are among the better-developed characters. Ted Danson, Mary McDonnell, and Alfre Woodard try to get inside their less-well developed roles and have a tougher time of it.

    For a movie with so many recognizable stars, Loren Dean is an odd casting choice as Mumford. Dean's filmography is interesting — "Billy Bathgate," "Gattaca," and "Enemy of the State," to name a few — but he certainly isn't a household name. In Mumford, Dean doesn't so much act as react; his dialogue is peppered with a great many hmms and uh-huhs as he takes stock of his clients' odd little quirks and preoccupations. Perhaps being a good listener is key to being a good psychologist, but it's a risky personality trait with which to saddle your leading man.

    After some impressive opening achievements (as director of "Body Heat," screenwriter of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and a couple of early "Star Wars" sequels), Kasdan's work has slumped into mediocrity and below. His recent turns at bat have been potentially interesting yet ultimately futile affairs — "French Kiss," "Wyatt Earp," and "I Love You to Death" spring to mind.

    "Mumford," alas, is no exception, a film bogged down by fair-to-middling writing, uninspired direction, and a central conceit that never really takes off.

    OCTOBER 1, 1999

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