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Take With Two Aspirin

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2000


    'Dr. T and the Women' Richard Gere is Dr. T, a charming gynecologist. You know the type. (Zade Rosenthal/Artisan Entertainment)
Robert Altman is crabby, grouchy and bloated with male supremacist ideas in "Dr. T & the Women," an all too up-close-and-personal tale of a popular Dallas gynecologist with female problems. (He probably also wonders whether he looks too fat in his pants.) Though it's allegedly a comedy, there is nothing funny about this tasteless, shallow and mean-spirited slam.

Anne Rapp, who collaborated with Altman on "Cookie's Fortune," must have penned this catty yarn in a fit of self-loathing. The mess of a story centers on the femme-plagued Dr. Sullivan Travis (Richard Gere), a saintly OB-GYN whose waiting room is always jammed with gossipy, garishly overdressed socialites.

It's clear from the start that neither Altman nor Rapp has much compassion for women at their most vulnerable. The film opens with a shot of Dr. T in action between a pair of hairy, mannish legs. Odd, since they belong to an otherwise fastidious elderly matron who is trying pathetically to hold on to her dignity by wearing a hat and carrying on polite conversation during the exam. It would have been a telling, even endearing scene without the hirsute thighs, but the poor old dear is made a laughingstock.

On the other hand, the filmmakers have enormous regard for Dr. Travis, who is absolutely crazy about the ladies. As he confides to his duck-hunting buddies (Andy Richter and Robert Hays), he thinks of women as saints and believes they should be treated accordingly. Subsequently, the female characters go out of their way to prove just how ornery they can be.

The impending wedding of the doctor's perky daughter (Kate Hudson) seems to bring on the mental collapse of his beloved wife (Farrah Fawcett). Her psychiatrist (a dour, ominous type) explains that this sort of thing happens only to women who are loved too much by their spouses. Thus crippled by her caring, considerate, adoring, worshipful husband, she regresses into childhood and is packed off to a booby hatch.

The overstuffed and disjointed screenplay lurches this way and that. His dithering sister-in-law (Laura Dern, looking ghastly), her three squealing little girls in tow, leaves her husband and moves in to help with the wedding. Next his younger daughter (Tara Reid) bursts into his office without knocking – everybody does – to voice her concerns about her sister's suspiciously close relationship with her maid of honor (Liv Tyler).

In the midst of all this, his trusty nurse (Shelley Long) suddenly throws herself at him in one of the film's most embarrassing scenes. But he's already found romantic solace in the country club's braless new golf pro (Helen Hunt). The doctor is wowed by her tee shot – and by the way she looks in a wet T-shirt. (For some reason, she can't seem to avoid the course's gosh-darn sprinkler system.) But it turns out she's a heartless Jezebel, thus proving that you can't trust women.

As if that weren't enough already, Mother Nature blows up a doozy of a hurricane, which catches the doctor in his vintage convertible, and suddenly he's literally not in Texas anymore. But even when the doctor's sucked into a parallel universe by the hellcat of a storm, he just can't escape the chicks.

And as always, they need things only he can provide – like his vaunted skills, which amount to yelling "push!" at regular intervals. At this point Altman gives any moviegoer still in the house the chance to be a virtual gynecologist!

It's hard to miss the she-bashing old coot's philosophy here. But you can miss this clunking tale with its tedious pace, archaic attitudes and misguided performances. The exceptions include the younger cast members – Tyler, Reid, Hudson – and, surprisingly, the affable Gere. Unfortunately, his most selfless and effective performance ever is wasted on this voyeuristic exercise in hate and envy.

"Dr. T & the Women" (121 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for graphic nudity and sexuality.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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