HEAVEN CAN WAIT - K.B. Cinema, Springfield Mall.
A line of soberly dressed people stands quietly in line to get into a white Concorde. There is no pushing, aboving or talking and no one carries luggage, souvenirs or reading matter. The explanation of this restrained behavior is that all the passengers have recently died and the trip they are about to take is to heaven.
That only a Concorde could get there is the one modern joke in "Heaven Can Wait," a remake of a 1941 film about a bureaucratic error in heaven leading to the untimely decease and the even less timely reappearances on earth of a football player.
The rest of the film is full of a kind of bygone sweetness and innocence - one might say it is pretentiously innocent. Warren Beatty, who wrote and directed the film (with Elaine May and Buck Henry) and produced and starred in it, has created Mr. Nice Guy and a movie in which he demonstrates how to be nice at the corporation board room, and how to be nice as an unfaithful husband.
It is all done - nicely. This is a very sweet movie to watch, the pleasant cinematic equivalent of light summer reading. But as it is Beatty's third production, and as his first, "Bonnie and Clyde," set off a toughness bogue, and his second, "Shampoo," epitomized the singles scene, we can assume that a massive attack of innocence is about to assault the popular culture.
Because of heavenly personnel problems, Beatty's character has three incarnations: football professional, tycoon, and then football professional again. He makes each one nicer than the one before. When he is deliberately knocked over by a monster of a teammate during practice session, he picks himself up and politely asks if he can have a turn with the ball. This earns him the love and respect of all, and he goes on to win the game. Wheh he is attacked by protesters and suspicious reporters before a board meeting, he invites them in, promises to do the right thing, and wins the love and respect of all. When he discovers that his wife and male secretary are having an affair and planning to kill him, he is careful to knock before entering the bedroom in which they are plotting, thus winning - love and respect again, only in this case not theirs but that of a nice girl, played by Julie Christie.
Coming in an era of assertiveness training, how-to-get-your-own, and me first-ism, this gives the movie a refreshing quality it would not have had in a milder cultural context. If it heralds a sociological fashion, as the previous Beatty productions did, that is even better.
But there is going to be a difficulty with that. Mr. Nice Guy is very nice, but Mrs. N.G., the adulterous, murderous wife played by Dyan Cannon, is the most appealing character in the picture.