Dr. T & the Women
Directed by Robert Altman
Did you hear the one about the gynecologist who thought he knew everything about women?
That setup for a joke is the premise behind Dr. T and the Women. It's an idea with huge potential, especially as a satire in these enlightened days of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
However, suffering from a lackluster screenplay in need of more germination time, Dr. T goes for rather superficial humor and skates around the heart of the matter.
Director Robert Altman's movies can run hot (M*A*S*H) or cold (Ready to Wear). Here, the 75-year-old artiste has only found lukewarm.
Altman has said he will move to France if George W. Bush is elected President. After watching this exercise in mediocrity, it's hard to tell if that ultimatum is a threat or a promise.
Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere, Pretty Woman) is a happily married man. He's so happily married, in fact, that his wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett, The Burning Bed), has become a spaced-out wanderer who strips down to nothing in a shopping mall's fountain (yeah, the one right outside Godiva's chocolates) because she is loved too much.
After psychiatric observation, some psychobabble about Kate retreating to a childlike state explains away her behavior in typically clinical fashion. But Dr. T, living in his rose-colored world, at first fails to realize how serious his wife's condition is and simply thinks it's a sign she's trying to regain her feminine mystery.
His wife's hospitalization spells the beginning of the end for the good Dr. T's magical, happy world. Soon after, all the other women in his life (daughters, sister-in-law, golfing companion, nurses, patients) begin to show (or rather, Dr. T finally notices) their own eccentricities, instabilities, unpredictable behaviors, and pent-up desires.
It's as if they're circling around him and pecking away at his stronghold of knowledge about women. Instead of a fresh, biting satire, however, Altman's carefully paced direction leaves the material feeling rather dull.
The cast is for the most part terrific, which also makes the end result that much more disappointing. Gere seems comfortable in his role, perhaps even too laid back, and Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets) takes a nice turn as an independent-minded golfing instructor who holds a lesson in love for Dr. T.
As the wife who falls back into childhood, Fawcett, unfortunately, merely calls to mind her embarrassing, absent-minded appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman a couple years back. It's some real-world baggage that Fawcett's acting skills can't quite overcome.
The show stealers are Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) and Tara Reid (American Pie), who give life to the movie's most interesting characters, Dr. T's daughters. They're the ones that seem to have the most going on behind the eyes.
Hudson plays the older daughter, Dee Dee, who's set to be married, but first has to sort out some issues of her own. Reid, as daughter Connie, with her repeated assurances to Dad that she'll be OK and her zest for JFK conspiracies (right down to ominous vanity plates that read JFK 33), could make a fun central character in another movie.
Wizard of Odds
Rather than a full-length film, Dr. T comes across more as a collection of ideas and jokes that just don't gel in the long run. This lack of cohesion is part of the reason why Dr. T's reaction to his world collapsing around him ultimately doesn't ring true. He is so blinded by his self-confidence and knowledge that he continues to believe everything is just fine.
This apparent lack of personal growth through it all is hard to fathom. The lesson might be "life goes on" but the execution was poor.
The movie takes its time setting up an appointment with reality for Dr. T. It's a setup that begs for a big payoff. However, the oddball ending takes such an incredible stretch of the imagination that it can only work by building a tremendous amount of audience goodwill beforehand.
Unfortunately, the goodwill doesn't materialize and the ending simply doesn't fit in with the preceding two hours.
It's almost as if the screenwriter, Anne Rapp (Cookie's Fortune, another Altman project), wrote the screenplay starting with the last line and created an awkward excuse to get there.
Yes, it's a good joke. But the payoff's delivery is simply too little too late.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.