Picks and Pans Review: The Lonely Guy

updated 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

According to this sometimes satisfying, frequently stalled comedy, being without a lover in New York City is more dangerous than riding the subways at 4 in the morning. Adapted (by Taxi vets Ed Weinberger and Stan Daniels) from Bruce Jay Friedman's The Lonely Guy's Book of Life, the plot chronicles the misfortunes of lovelorn Larry, a greeting-card writer whose girlfriend forsakes him for a ballet dancer. In the title role Steve Martin expertly sustains the cartoonish character through what is essentially a series of single-again skits: getting a dog, prowling the bars and meeting the perfect woman (Judith Ivey), who then rejects Larry "because you're so right for me." Despite Martin's facility, pairing him with director Arthur (Love Story) Hiller is one of Hollywood's worst shotgun marriages. Martin's wit and delivery mock traditional comedy, while Hiller is a slave to convention. In those moments that combine social commentary and surrealistic humor, Martin (and the movie) rises above the directorial mismatch. When Larry's pathetic pal throws a party peopled only by cardboard cutouts of famous folks or when Larry goes up on his roof to call the name of his beloved and finds a dozen other guys doing the same thing, the comedy is both inventive and incisive. But more often it undercuts its star's unorthodox talents. Providing able assistance are Charles Grodin, a frumpy misfit on the social circuit, and Dr. Joyce Brothers, whose sexual habits serve as the punch lines for some funny sight gags. (R)

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