Picks and Pans Review: The Manhattan Project

updated 06/23/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/23/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

As Woody Allen's collaborator on such classic screenplays as Annie Hall and Manhattan, Marshall Brickman teethed on cutting-edge comedy. As director of his own loopy screenplays Simon and Lovesick, Brickman hasn't achieved the same success—on the screen or at the box office. For his third feature, Brickman has initiated a backhanded career change: He's challenging himself to make a conventional, routine movie. The bad news is that he's mastered the task. This script, which Brickman co-authored with Thomas Baum, concerns a suburban high school student (Chris Collett) who manufactures an atomic device. When news of it leaks out, he becomes the focus of a boyhunt by the usual military madmen and a scientist (John Lithgow) who is dating Collett's mom (Jill Eikenberry). Collett's girlfriend (Cynthia Nixon), who plays a kind of Silkwood of Sigma Chi, gives the movie its only real spark. Out of this material Brickman could have concocted an adolescent Dr. Strangelove, but instead he settles for a public service announcement: It's a lousy idea for anyone to play with nuclear weapons. In the past Brickman's comedies were criticized as snobbish, uptown exercises. But in pursuing a commercial crossover he's gone too far in the other direction. While an advocacy adventure such as The Manhattan Project depends upon plausibility, Brickman has peppered the script with contrivances. Here the race-against-time finale goes off without a bang—because the movie has proceeded without any heart. Like its hero, this movie is frighteningly ordinary. (PG-13)

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