Picks and Pans Review: The World According to Garp

UPDATED 08/09/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/09/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

The better the book, the worse the movie. The film version of John Irving's 1978 best-seller does nothing to disprove that axiom. Director George Roy (The Sting) Hill and screenwriter Steve (Breaking Away) Tesich have transformed Irving's unbridled, character-packed amalgam of hilarity and horror into a slick, tame Hollywood package. T.S. Garp (Robin Williams) is the bastard son of a nurse who once cozied up to a dying but libidinous World War II turret gunner for the sole purpose of conceiving a child. Growing up at a New England prep school, Garp becomes a wrestler, dog-biter and lover, then a husband, father, writer and battler of the "Under Toad," a force that threatens to destroy his life. (The term comes from his son's malapropism for "undertow.") Casting Robin Williams as the sanity-seeking Garp can hardly be called inspired. He plays so hard against his Morky, zonked-out image, it's like watching an actor in a straitjacket. Newcomer Glenn Close, late of Broadway's Barnum, fares much better. As Garp's beautiful, maddening mother, whose feminist autobiography outsells her son's serious work, she is believable, touching and a certain Oscar contender. The rest of the cast, including Mary Beth Hurt as Garp's adulterous wife and John Lithgow as a pro football tight end turned transsexual, fight a losing battle against a script that veers between broad visual effects and literary stodginess. Only an infant Garp, tossed repeatedly in the air during the opening and closing credits, fully lives up to Irving's novel. The baby reflects what the movie most lacks: a free spirit. (PG)

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