This time around, the Grand Hotel-that movie-lot annex where characters are always checking in at crisis time-is a California hostelry furnished in pastel carpeting and cellophane-wrapped fruit baskets.
Neil Simon's "California Suite" consists of four separate episodes, all taking place in the Beverly Hills Hotel. There is no relationship among them, aside from one part never so much as share an elevator with the characters from another - so this is not one of those dramas about people being thrown together by fate. Those who checked in together stay strictly within their own sections of the film.
Not only is there no overall plot, but there is no theme to be drawn from the cumulative experience. What happens in 206 has no bearing on the goings on in 306; they could as easily be parts of different movies.
The result is less a movie than a television special, with one situation thrown quickly on the screen after another in the hope that the variety will keep everyone tuned. All the episodes consist entirely of attention-grabbing high spots, with no slack time put into building. This means that the characters are all one-sided sketches, but it must be added that they are able to serve as structures for rapid-fire dialogue that hits as often as it misses.
In one room, Jane Fonda, as a Newsweek editor, is having a belated custody battle with her ex-husband, now a laid-back Californian, played by Alan Alda. (She reports back by telephone to her current lover, a Washington Post writer who has "the second-best mind in this country since Adlai Stevenson.") This is the modern drama section.
In another room, Maggie Smith plays an English actress who has come from the Academy Awards presentations with her husband (Michael Caine), a bisexual antiques dealer with whom she has an open marriage, an arrangement she regrets when drunk. This one is the sophisticated entry.
In two other rooms, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor play two rich, Chicago doctors vacationing, with their wives, as a foursome. This one, which involves a lot of tenniscourt accidents, is the slapstick part.
And, finally, there is a room in which Walter Matthau and Elaine May play the old family comedy in which he tries to prevent her from seeing that he has a blonde in their bed.
Most of them have their moments - as long as you accept the film's being a stringing together of moments.
But wait. There is one unifying theme. All of the people in this film have Gucci luggage. That establishes it in its proper genre; there is no such thing, these days, as a film attempting sophisticated comedy in which Gucci merchandise is not only used, but mentioned by name.
CALIFORNIA SUITE-AMC carrollton, K-B Cinema, K-B Cinema 7, K-B Macarthur and Springfield Mall.