Picks and Pans Review: Betsy's Wedding

updated 07/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/09/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Alan Alda, Madeline Kahn

In this era of movie violence, not many characters last long enough for an audience to develop any feelings toward them. But loosen your body armor and holster those Uzis, folks; here is a quiet, enjoyable comedy full of likable and/or intriguing personalities.

And what's striking is how much of that appeal is due to plain old terrific acting.

Alda, who wrote and directed, didn't go beyond a routine concept: A dilzy young woman (Molly Ringwald) is marrying a straight young man (Dylan Walsh), and her middle-class parents (Alda and Kahn) are in a dither. The dialogue plods, and the main plot twist—involvement of some Mafia types in the preparations—intrudes clumsily, right down to a dumb gun battle.

Alda and casting director Mary Colquhoun did, however, assemble a remarkable array of acting talent.

Alda himself is in his lovably sardonic M*A*S*H mode (when he tosses off one of those idle put-downs, what he says is less important than how he says it). Kahn is beautifully subdued as a wife whose husband never knows when to say "enough." Ringwald, of course, does ditzy to a T. Walsh (Where the Heart Is) makes a good yuppie. Ally Sheedy overcomes the fact that her character is wildly envious of her sister, Ringwald. Joe Pesci gives an edge of annoying nervous energy to his role as a real estate manipulator, and Catherine O'Hara exudes all the warmth of stainless steel as Pesci's conniving wife. Joey Bishop, as the dead father who appears to chat with Alda. Burt Young, as a mob boss, and Camille Saviola, as Pesci's secretary, rise above their circumstances too.

Most entertaining, though, is Anthony LaPaglia, a TV veteran who is saddled with a mega-cliché role as a young, upwardly mobile gangster who aspires to respectability. Alda foists on him the worst neo-Da-mon Runyon, Untouchables stereotypes, from the natty suits to the stiltedly polite language. "I would be deeply and profoundly saddened if I or anyone else caused you any unhappiness," he says to Sheedy, whom he is courting like mad. He also asks her what kind of music she likes: "Rock? Easy listening? Classical—like Sinatra?"

Bishop laments that he changed his very Italian name to "Hopper" because the reputation of Mafia types "took my Italianness away from me." And Kahn muses about how straitlaced Walsh is: "We're going to have invisible, correct grandchildren. No talking, no running. We won't know they've visited us until we get their thank-you note."

But most of the time, Alda's script is painfully predictable. After the wedding goes off with shoehorned-in raucous complications and sentimental reconciliations, Alda says to Ringwald, "I've always wanted your wedding to be something you'd never forget," and she replies—all together now—"I don't think I could ever forget this."

The film still leaves a good feeling. Not euphoria, but there are worse things than noting: Well, they never have much to say, but they're a real nice bunch of folks. (R)

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