Picks and Pans Review: Max Dugan Returns

updated 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/04/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Marsha Mason shows up in unflattering blond curls that look like Barbra Streisand wig rejects from A Start Is Born. The movie doesn't suit her either, which is even more surprising. Max Dugan Returns marks Mason's fifth film collaboration with her writer husband, Neil Simon, and three of them (The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two and Only When I Laugh) brought her deserved Oscar nominations. Not this time, Marsha. Simon isn't scraping bottom as he did in last year's awful I Ought to Be in Pictures, but despite a cute moment here and there, Max Dugan is lamentably lame comedy. Mason plays a wisecracking widow fighting an uphill battle to raise her teenage son, Matthew Broderick, on her skimpy teacher's salary. Just when her life gets a romantic lift from an L.A.P.D. detective, Donald Sutherland, up pops her ex-con father, Max Dugan (Jason Robards), who left home 26 years before. To make amends, the terminally ill Max starts spending his misbegotten gains on his family, dropping everything from video equipment to a Mercedes at their doorstep. The gift-giving has an engaging fairy-tale quality thanks to Robards' roguish charm, and there's an exceptionally appealing debut performance from Broderick, 20, the son of actor James (Family) Broderick. Unlike the frenetic Mason and the miscast Sutherland, Robards and Broderick frequently manage to break out of the Simon mold of snappy one-liners to find rhythms that are natural and recognizably human. The scene in which Robards hires real-life Chicago White Sox batting coach Charley Lau to improve his grandson's game is a hoot. For the rest, Simon and director Herbert (California Suite) Ross rarely rise above the sitcom level. This is second-rate Simon—pure formula and purely forgettable. (PG)

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