Picks and Pans Review: Benny & Joon

updated 04/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn, Johnny Depp

Quirky and a half, maybe quirky to the 12th power, this film about love among the mentally ill is also as artificially sweet as a mouthful of saccharin. Still, it is irresistibly appealing in an old-fashioned, fantasy romance way.

Masterson is a young Washington State woman who is afflicted by an unspecified mental condition that turns her manic and disconnected under even minimal stress. Quinn is her doling brother, a car mechanic with infinite patience for his sister's unsettling instability but only a scant life of his own. Depp is a ditzy cousin of one of Quinn's poker pals (his lovable neurosis manifests itself in his perching in trees like a leopard, and he is also an old movie buff, even dressing and acting like Buster Keaton). Depp moves in and helps Quinn lake care of Masterson. Depp and Masterson don't just meet cute; they live cute. The romance is inevitable and director Jeremiah Chechik lets it unfurl without surprise.

While Depp trots out his eerie Edward Scissorhands grin and shows an atavistic flair for physical comedy (he does Chaplin shtick better than Robert Downey Jr.), he pales in comparison with Masterson and Quinn, two of the most attractive as well as most talented actors of their generation.

But the film's intellectually dishonest undertones, suggesting that menial illness is merely an entertaining peccadillo, are disturbing enough to undercut the considerable enjoyment it generates. (PG)

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