Not to put too fine a point on it, "Lost and Found" is a disgrace. A ruinous reunion of personnel associated seven years ago in the inexplicably popular "A Touch of Class" - co-stars George Segal, Glenda Jackson and Paul Sorvino and producer-director-screenwriter Melvin Frank - "Lost and Found" is the ugliest, unfunniest "comedy" to litter the American screen since "Fire Sale."
Frank, who began in the movie business almost 40 years ago as a writer for Bob Hope and has several comedy credits to be proud of in the course of a long, checkered career, has evidently come to the end of his film-making tether.
"Lost and Found" (ultimately as mystifying a title as "A Touch of Class") is intended as a romantic comedy, tracing the rocky first year of marriage between a widowed American college professor, Segal, and a divorced English secretary, Jackson.
The future newlyweds "meet cute" while motoring to a French Alpine resort. Traveling in opposite directions, they round a bend and narrowly avert a head-on collision. If only they'd plowed straight ahead, everyone would have been spared considerable pain and embarrassment.
Frank can't even get the characters introduced with a carwreck: They collide a second time, as Segal pursues Jackson on skis. Laid up with broken legs, they collide a third time, in the doorway of his hospital room, before a ghost of a romantic attachment materializes. Perhaps the most authentic sequence in the film is the pantomime of pain exchanged by Segal and Jackson as they untangle casts and pick themselves agonizingly off the floor.
After tying the knot, the couple takes up residence in the States, where he is struggling for tenure at Winchester, a second-string Ivy League school. Before facing a long, miserable academic year with a husband revealed to be a hopeless, besoted weakling, the heroine must endure an audience with his mother, Maureen Stapleton as a bossy pseudo-intellectual hedonist who runs an establishment called "Mother Watson's Subversive Bookstore." It is to book-lovers what Winchester is to higher education: a bad joke.
"You married a man who was brought up in an aura of first-cabin intellectualism," Stapleton informs Jackson.
She and others are obliged to speak in Frankian wit. An example, articulated by one of Segal's colleagues: "C'est la friggin' vie." Paul Sorvino, cast as a culture-hungry cabbie who helps to patch up the Segal-Jackson union when it promises to come permanently asunder, has nifties like this: "If you're Irish in Boston and get arrested for murder, they sentence you to 30 days in Harvard. If you're Italian, they'll arrest you for carrying concealed sandwiches." Uh-huh, concealed sandwiches.
After a despondent Segal has tried to commit suicide and Sorvino and Jackson have revived him after a reel of excruciating gags involving artificial respiration and a cold shower, the cabbie gets to express the worldly wisdom that resigns the wife to her burden, and leaves the audience with a message. He's read all the philosophers from Aristotle to Becker, the cabbie brags, and he's distilled all their thoughts into one abiding truth: "The life is --, but it's all we've got."
Fortunately, "Lost and Found" is not all we've got in the way of movie-going diversion. It's the most derelict of last resorts: out of sorts, out of touch and out of jokes.
In passing, one should note that Frank, like Peter Bogdanovich in "What's up Doc?" has taken an ineffective swipe at critic John Simon, disguised as a visiting critic called "John Schuster" and reviled as "some piranha who feeds on real talent." The irony is that even piranha will want to throw back bait as defenseless and unappetizing as "Lost and Found."