Picks and Pans Review: Beaches

updated 01/09/1989 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1989 01:00AM

It's hard to think of a more enticing invitation to a movie than these two words: Bette Midler. Starting with her leading role in The Rose in 1979 and including her recent star turn as the voice of a primping French poodle in the animated Oliver & Company, Miss M has laughed, cried, sung and emoted her way into our hearts. She's a firecracker. But her new movie's a stinkeroo. It's a female buddy flick; no worse than a male buddy flick, but still a tired old genre. Midler is a pop singer named CC Bloom, a Bronx toughie who enjoys an unlikely friendship with a San Francisco blue blood, played by Barbara Hershey. They meet as children in Atlantic City on a beach (you were wondering, maybe, about the title). The kid portion of the movie isn't bad, mostly because Mayim Bialik, 13, is a dynamo as the miniature Midler. Lainie Kazan also shines as CC's strutting stage mother. But shortly after the girls grow into women, the laughs start evaporating. Friendship isn't just fun, it's fighting over careers, clothes, men, marriage, children and divorce. Soon it's time for—gulp-disease, dying, syrupy music and sunsets. Clichés are not only turned, they are uprooted and dusted off like newfound treasure. The script, adapted by Mary Agnes Donoghue from a 1985 novel by Iris Rainer Dart, is a woebegone weepie that would shame the afternoon soaps. Director Garry Marshall, who showed a subtle hand in Nothing in Common and The Flamingo Kid, uses the other hand this time—the heavy one. Who could have done this to our Bette? Are you ready? She did. Midler's All Girl Productions, in which she is partnered with Bonnie Bruckheimer-Martell and Margaret Jennings South, conceived this star vehicle. Almost nothing works. Hershey, whose talent has been burgeoning in Hannah and Her Sisters, Shy People and A World Apart, is wasted. The men—John Heard, James Read and Spalding Gray—get the bimbo roles usually foisted on the ladies. An All Girl revenge? If so, the comic edge is blunted by the tear-jerking. Still, Midler the miraculous acts as if she believes every word. She also sings strong versions of The Glory of Love, I Think It's Going to Rain Today and a slow-and-sexy Under the Boardwalk. The rest of this Beaches deserves to disappear with the tide. (PG-13)

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