Picks and Pans Review: Mermaids

updated 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/14/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Cher, Winona Ryder

Among this movie's multiple personalities are a morosely nostalgic one (brooding over reactions to President Kennedy's assassination), an antic one (Cher romping with Ryder and Christina Ricci, as her two daughters), a sloppy soap opera one (Ryder's unconvincingly sudden determination to lose her virginity and a too-coincidental crisis involving Ricci) and a sly, warm one (Bob Hoskins, as Cher's beau, cooking for her children because she makes only finger foods—three meals a day).

Some of this is entertaining, some of it foolish, and most of it is too eccentric to make much of an impact of any kind.

Directed by Richard (My Stepmother Is an Alien) Benjamin, who took it over partway from Frank Oz, it is set in 1963 and makes a big issue of the era, yet the film is riddled with anachronisms. Hoskins complains at one point, for instance, about how Astro Turf is ruining baseball, when Astro Turf wasn't even introduced into the major leagues until 1966. Eighties expressions like "Lighten up!" keep popping up, and people talk about Superman and Lois Lane kissing.

None of this ought to devastate anyone's day, of course, but such jarring annoyances throw the film off its rhythm, which is herky-jerky enough.

Ryder is quirkily appealing as a wildly maladjusted teenager (now, this is a kid who would have been a match for Edward Scissorhands) whose hobby is being embarrassed about her good-hearted mother's vaguely slutty and egregiously male-dependent behavior. Ricci is quietly likable as the sweet younger daughter whose talent for swimming accounts for only part of the title—Cher's mermaid New Year's Eve costume gets in there too.

Cher herself is offhandedly sarcastic. It seems like a routine performance for her, a throwback to her old TV show persona, especially against Hoskins, who is winningly earnest.

The script by June (Experience Preferred...but Not Essential) Roberts from Patty Dann's novel has its best moments in Ryder's stream-of-consciousness voice-overs—at one point she wonders whether nuns have pure thoughts "every second of the day"—but it's too often on the glib side. When a boyfriend tells Cher he's going on vacation without her, she says, "Not only are you not taking me on this trip, you're taking another woman!" He answers, "She's not just another woman. She's my wife!"

Then there's Hoskins telling Cher, "Time catches up. What can you do?" When she replies, "Keep moving," it's to groan for.

The saving grace is that the way the movie keeps lunging back and forth, you know that any bad moment isn't likely to last too long. (PG-13)

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