Picks and Pans Review: Chances Are

updated 03/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Cybill Shepherd, Robert Downey Jr.

Ignore the implicit celebration of incestuous father-daughter impulses. Forgive the fact that the film begins at a grimly slow pace, like a bus being towed out of windshield-deep mud. Don't worry about the encouragement it is likely to give to the loony-tune reincarnation fringe. What really deflates this movie, and robs its comic-emotional payoffs of whatever punch they might have had, is how stupid so many of its characters are. The plot is about a young Washington, D.C., husband who is hit by a car and killed on his first anniversary, just after learning his wife is pregnant. He wakes up to find himself in some kind of netherworld where he is being processed to have his soul put into a new body. It's not clear whether this is heaven, hell or purgatory; maybe, since he is just changing vehicles, it is the reincarnational equivalent of Atlanta. Anyway, he comes back and 23 years later has become a young man in the form of Downey, who just happens upon "his" old house. There he finds his widow, Shepherd, who has been pining away for him all this time and still feeds his favorite candy bar to a picture of him. He also finds Ryan O'Neal, who was his best friend and admired Shepherd from afar. O'Neal plays a Washington Post reporter, and the Post should sue for libel. This guy is a total dunce who for 23 years has slavered over Shepherd without doing anything about her—or any other woman, apparently. These two obviously deserve to be left to stew in their own lack of juices, but when Downey arrives, things get stirred up a bit. Since Downey is only 23, the natural match is with Mary Stuart Masterson; she, however, is his old self's daughter, he quickly realizes. The permutations and predictable plot turns are dutifully trotted out by director Emile (Dirty Dancing) Ardolino and writers Perry and Randy (Mystic Pizza) Howze. Their idea of a punch line, however, is the monumentally undersexed Shepherd character saying, "I'm so ripe I'm about to fall off the vine." Downey, meanwhile, is racing around in an abrasive state of agitation, as if his problem is not reincarnation but burrs in his underwear. O'Neal and Shepherd affect distancing, serenely unconcerned smiles most of the time and seem quite pleasant, all things considered. It's as if they were contemplating their paychecks, or maybe their next movies, if not their next lives. (PG)

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