Picks and Pans Review: Something to Talk About

updated 08/21/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Julia Roberts, Dennis Quaid, Robert Duvall, Gena Rowlands, Kyra Sedgwick

Apolitical tract disguised as a romantic comedy, this grimly humorless, philosophically jejune, unpleasant movie written by Callie Khouri, writer of Thelma & Louise, prates about how funny it is to see a man (a) kneed in the crotch; (b) poisoned by his estranged wife; (c) throw up repeatedly; (d) get locked out of his house (this notion is thought so hilarious, it gets used twice); (e) suffer because his wife uses their young daughter as a weapon against him.

The film, directed by the Swedish Lasse Hallstrom, is apparently set in Kentucky or Tennessee, where Roberts, daughter of thoroughbred breeder Duvall, sees her husband, Quaid, kiss another woman on the street.

Roberts takes an uncompromising approach to this revelation. While it is her single sister Sedgwick who knees Quaid, Roberts throws him out, subtly bad-mouths him to their daughter Haley Aull and poisons his food when he comes home for a (he thinks) conciliatory dinner, using a "recipe" from her dotty aunt, whose homicidal impulses are portrayed here as merely mischievous.

Meanwhile, Roberts and Sedgwick's parents, Duvall and Rowlands, are struggling belatedly to sort out their marriage too. Rowlands, inspired by her assertive daughters, throws out the formerly unfaithful Duvall (whereupon he starts walking around forlornly, mewling piteously—a most unlikely turn of events that even the redoubtable Duvall can't make plausible).

Khouri, gaining zero yardage in the battle against infidelity, seems mostly intent on proving how articulate she is by using the barnyard epithet "s—t" as often as possible: It appears in 11 different lines, not counting the variation "shoot." Roberts is also saddled with any number of other four-letter words, and she belabors the pointless modifier "god-damned." As for storyline, there is also a totally predictable subplot wherein Aull and Duvall ride prize horses owned by the family in a big dressage event.

Aull, a 10-year-old South Carolinian, is a refreshing presence in this otherwise stale, sour film. Hallstrom shoots Roberts from unflattering angles that elongate her face and stress the size of her mouth. Yet she remains ingratiatingly lively as does Quaid, despite his thankless, underwritten role. Duvall and Rowlands, having outlived many silly scripts, will soldier on. (R)

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