Picks and Pans Review: Made in America

updated 06/14/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/14/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Danson, Will Smith, Nia Long

It's mild comfort to know that Danson and Goldberg apparently fell in love while making this flaccid comedy about a mix-up at a sperm bank. At least they got something out of it, which is more than most viewers will.

The movie's stumblebum premise has Goldberg's 17-year old daughter (Long) discovering that Mom, a shop owner who sells African-American books and merchandise, has lied to her all these years about her father having been Goldberg's beloved long-dead husband. The daughter tracks down the records on her real dad at the sperm bank and—is this a knee-slapper or what?—he turns out to be Danson. Not only is he white, but he's a twice-divorced vulgarian of a car-lot owner who appears, dressed in western wear and cavorting with wild animals, in cheesy TV commercials. Predictably the trio regard each other warily before coming to understand their mutual need for one another.

Although director Richard Benjamin and screenwriter Holly Goldberg Sloan try for some of the larky, off-center feel of, say, early Jonathan Demme movies such as Handle with Care or Melvin and Howard, America more often plays like a fatuous, elbow-in-the-ribs TV movie. Drop the racial angle and it could just as easily star Suzanne Somers and Alan Thicke.

Danson has his moments, particularly in his boisterous "Hi, guy!" salesman mode, but a lot of what lies required to do here is shticky and embarrassing. Goldberg, in her first full-fledged romantic lead, seems self-satisfied and prone to yelling. The most appealing work in the movie comes from younger cast members Long (a Cm ding Light regular), who delicately calibrates her character's confused emotional responses, and Smith (TV's Fresh Prince of Bel Air), who's both fresh and funny as Long's hapless best friend and would-be boyfriend. (PG-13)

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