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‘Peter’s Friends’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 25, 1992

You could almost bet the house that "Peter's Friends" was once somebody's idea of a great idea. "Let's remake 'The Big Chill,' " somebody said in a meeting somewhere, "but with a bunch of Brits! Isn't that fabulous?"

And everybody agreed that it was.

Everybody was wrong.

Imagine the Kevin Kline character, the host, Peter (Stephen Fry), crying out to a pair of guests, "Oh, pish tosh, it just wouldn't have worked without you two lovelies."

Loses something in the translation, doesn't it?

This soupy, tiresome movie, which stars and was directed by British Wunderkind Kenneth Branagh ("Henry V" and "Dead Again"), isn't an actual remake; it merely lifts the central premise of a group of old friends -- in this case, a collection of actors who used to be members of the same theater troupe -- reuniting to reminisce and mend fences. But the script, which was written by American comedian Rita Rudner (who also stars), is mostly a hodgepodge of stale show-biz stereotypes mixed with the brand of schmaltzy emotionalism that can be bought off the rack of any store on Rodeo Drive.

What Rudner and Branagh have done here is stage a festival of dysfunctionals, all of whom are experiencing some sort of personal crisis, in the guise of a bedroom farce. But to hear these vain, self-absorbed, priggish snobs reveal their innermost feelings, leap private barriers and make personal breakthroughs is to appreciate the stiff-upper-lip approach the British customarily apply. If I sounded like these old pots (at fortysomething), I'd keep my trap shut too.

Rudner's contributions are very American; that is, vulgar. (This includes her painfully tacky performance as a very successful, very screwed-up television star who's married to Branagh's Andrew, a very unhappy, very rich comedy writer.) And yet there's something else, some essential squareness, lurking inside the script's vulgarity that would make old reruns of "Love, American Style" look hip.

The movie aspires to an air of Noel Cowardesque sophistication and elegance folded in with emotional slapstick, and the mix just doesn't work. Meanwhile, what we're stuck with is roughly 90 minutes of forced familiarity with a crew of revoltingly irritating people. And if that's what I wanted, I would've gone home for Christmas.

"Peter's Friends" is rated R for language and adult material.

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