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‘Mixed Nuts’ (PG-13)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 21, 1994

Is there anything more excruciating than failed farce?

In "Mixed Nuts," Nora Ephron's antic comedy about the staff of a suicide hot-line service on Christmas Eve, the characters race around in a constant state of panic. Even on the best of days, they can't seem to come to a caller's rescue without botching the intervention. And because Philip (Steve Martin), who runs the service, has been informed by the landlord they are being evicted, the level of madness is rising exponentially.

Usually, Ephron (who wrote the script with her sister, Delia) is one of the most reliable comic voices in the movies, but here her gifts seem to have deserted her. Though she shows her customary talent for smart one-liners, the spirit of the film is forced and desperate, as if she lacked faith in her gags and were trying to shove them down our throats.

The story line itself is as shallow as it is pointless -- a flood of weak laughs surrounding little islands of pathos. Primarily it exists as a showcase for the film's stellar cast -- among them, Madeleine Kahn, Juliet Lewis, Adam Sandler and Rob Reiner -- but performances are so broad that there's not much to display. I can't remember when Martin's talents were so utterly wasted, and with the possible exception of Rita Wilson, who is winningly tender as a hot-line worker too shy to express her love for Philip, the other actors ricochet from one reaction to another.

Ephron attempts to keep the energy level up, but her efforts make the film seem jittery. Watching it, you feel as if everyone in the cast is over-caffeinated.

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