The meek may inherit the earth, but do they get to direct our movies, too?
That certainly seems to be the case with "Mumford," which goes nowhere slow. It just sort of tiptoes along as if it's afraid someone might notice it.
Where have you gone, Lawrence Kasdan? You electrified the '80s writing and directing "Body Heat," "The Big Chill" and "Silverado." Are you still atoning for introducing us to Kevin Costner in the last? Or are you comatose or overdosed on lithium, sodden with muscatel, confidence gone or just bored?
Whatever, Kasdan's "Mumford" is a homage to catatonia. It seems on the verge of flatlining at any second.
The film follows the interaction of a group of mildly zany characters, in the idyllic small town of Mumford, all under the care of a psychologist also named Mumford. The Mumford-Mumford thing is an example of the movie's level of wit.
Dr. Mumford, played by a snoozy Loren Dean, seems to have an odd therapeutic style. He tries to get his patients in bed with one another, and sometimes himself, while encouraging them to kick the annoying people out of their lives.
He gossips in the coffee shop about them. If they annoy him, he fires them, earning their enmity for all time. If he likes them, he'll go for a walk with them or play catch.
Possibly there's some promise here along nutty-professor lines, but Kasdan doesn't go for big laughs--or small ones, either. He simply nudges the action forward without confrontation, electricity or any drama at all. The film seems stuck in an oxygen tent for most of its quite-long running time (1 hour 41 years).
The psychic maladies Mumford confronts would have put Freud to sleep; in fact, if Herr Doktor's Viennese patients had been this boring, the theory of the id would never have been born. We'd probably be a lot better off, but that's another story.
In any event, the most seriously afflicted appears to be a young woman named Sofie (Hope Davis), who has chronic fatigue syndrome, just like the movie; Mumford cures this by falling in love with her. Most of the others are simply lonely and frustrated, for which the medicine is simple acts of friendship accompanied by matchmaking of the most obvious sort, after which mental health is instantly restored.
Only an idiot wouldn't suspect that there was something suspicious about the doctor. But to prevent any suspense--much less any mystery--from building, Kasdan simply tells us what it is at somewhat less than the halfway point. After that, the movie is less interesting; we already know too much, and what is revealed--in an endless flashback--turns out to be just another common banality of the trouble into which seemingly smart people can get themselves.
A few amusing performances--Dean's not among them--keep the movie at least watchable. The best of these is probably Jason Lee's as a computer billionaire named Skip who rides a skateboard, wears plaid Kmart shirts and is building a plastic woman in the basement. He seems to belong in another movie--maybe one by a modern Frank Capra-- but he's likable. The Rx: Doc introduces him to a real woman (Alfre Woodard).
Then there's the druggist (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who fantasizes about being a stud in a Jim Thompson novel. Mumford intros him to the frustrated woman (Mary McDonnell) whose nasty capitalist husband (Ted Danson) has just left her. Instant connection, though the imagined scenes from the Thompson novel are far more interesting than anything in "Mumford" the movie, Mumford the town or Mumford the man.
Kasdan never tells us which state the town is in, but it's really no mystery. It's in a state of physics. It's pure entropy: It tends to stay at rest, start to finish.
Mumford (101 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for surprising amounts of nudity.
CAPTION: Alfre Woodard and Loren Dean in the tedious, suspense-free "Mumford."