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‘What About Bob?’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 17, 1991

"I have problems," Bill Murray tells psychiatrist Richard Dreyfuss on his first visit. In "What About Bob?" this meeting's the start of a beautiful patient-doctor thing -- at least for Murray. For Dreyfuss, it's the beginning of a nightmare.

"Bob" is one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point. Essentially, multi-phobic Murray harasses Dreyfuss from start to finish. When the doctor leaves for a month's vacation, the new patient can't handle the separation. He follows Dreyfuss and family to New Hampshire and stays. When family members Julie Hagerty, Charlie Korsmo and Kathryn Erbe take a shine to Murray, Dreyfuss realizes he's stuck with this nutcase forever.

"Bob" rests entirely on Murray's shoulders. But he more than takes the weight. With his twisted lower lip, doleful eyes and trademark deadpan, he exudes an awkward -- and funny -- vulnerability. He can't touch anything without using a tissue. He's scared his heart could stop beating. He thinks his bladder might explode at any time. He fakes cardiac arrests, so that he won't have any, and he's always talking.

"There are two kinds of people in this world," he tells Dreyfuss, explaining why he got divorced. "Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't."

Dreyfuss thinks he's got the upper hand on Murray when he checks him into a psychiatric ward. But the hospital director calls Dreyfuss back immediately. There's nothing wrong with Murray at all, she tells the flustered shrink. Dreyfuss peers through a window to see Murray keeping the entire staff in stitches.

"Roses are red, violets are blue," he's reciting. "I'm a schizophrenic, and so am I."

Despite his workhorse efforts, Dreyfuss remains the fall guy, an eternally flabbergasted Inspector Clouseau to Murray's Pink Panther. Scriptwriters Alvin Sargent and Tom Schulman make him a one-dimensional, ambitious shrink. He struts in front of a bust of Freud. He's named his son after Sigmund, and he cares more about promoting his new book, "Baby Steps," on an upcoming "Good Morning America" show than his family. Of course, he needs to be taught a lesson. It's a good thing for the movie that Murray's the teacher.

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