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IN SHORT: An Altman Artfilm. [Rated R for graphic nudity and some sexuality. 122 minutes.]
We've been asked not to reveal the ending of this movie, which isn't policy of this site anyway. If the producer's wish to imply that you're going to see something that's never been seen onscreen before, it has. Then again, there are three twists at film's end, none of which are worth the effort it takes to get to them. If depictions of things sexual bother you, swipe the SPOILER space [the "graphic nudity" includes extreme closeups of a vagina during a birth scene]
Robert Altman's Dr. T & The Women kicks off with a cacophany of sound and motion in the the classic Altman style. That style involves letting loose a dozen characters on different story paths, all crossing and coming together and, if all goes well, delivering something akin to a great stew. Here's how these ingredients lay out:
Dr. Sullivan "Sully" Travis (Richard Gere) is the most prominent Ob/Gyn doctor in Dallas Texas. Three nurses run his office, under the eyes of manager Caroline (Shelley Long) and the patients are stacked two dozen deep. They're all dressed to the nines, and literally battle for position to get in the position for their few minutes with the very handsome doc. The Doc has some other things on his mind, though. His daughter Dee Dee (Kate Hudson), a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, is about to get married. His sister in law Peggy (Laura Dern) has moved into his house with her kids, pending a divorce. His wife, Kate (Farrah Fawcett), seems to be losing her mind, wandering off at the mall while the rest of the clan checks crystal patterns at Tiffany and Co., and frolicking naked in a fountain. The diagnosis? something called Hestia's Syndrome -- a balderdash explanation makes it sound like the more Gere Loves Fawcett, the more she reverts into a child-like state. The only solution is to lock her away in a very upscale psychiatric hospital and forbid visits from her loving other half. It's that Sting song ("If you love someone....") become a vicious reality.
Which, of course, makes the loyal doctor fair game for women who don't necessarily care about his dedication to his vows. But his troubles don't start there. His other daughter Connie (Tara Reid), who leads tours at the Conspiracy Museum in the Book Depository, objects to Dee Dee's marriage not only for its location -- near a lake where it storms a lot but also for the choice of her college roommate Marilyn (Liv Tyler) as Maid of Honor. Both daughters fight for his attention and approval.
With all that work stress and emotional pressure, it's a good thing a rich doc like T can hunt with his buddies or do eighteen holes at the local country club, where there happens to be a new Pro. A just off the Women's Tour pro named Bree (Helen Hunt).
Fans of Altman should be drooling about now, just based on the set-up. I wish I could say that everything dropped into the pot mixes into one grand time but we found ourselves fidgeting in our seat. So was just about every other critic in the screening with me. While laying out all these character strands someone forgot that there should be some kind of story affected by the characters. Three "surprises" saved for the ending are a pitiful excuse for an almost utter lack of subplots or story development. Comic relief, thanks to Shelley Long, is crunched into one scene. The only sequences that pass for plot, involving Helen Hunt, are woefully underdeveloped.
In the past, even when Altman doesn't deliver a grand slam, there usually is enough motion and character development to keep it interesting. Dr. T & The Women, though, goes thunk like a lead bob hitting the pond. Of all the women, Shelly Long stands out in her comic role. Helen Hunt is the only co-star who matches Richard Gere step for step, though Gere's character seems totally lost for most of the movie. He's supposed to be lost, which brings us back to one of the surprises of the ending.
Which is not worth paying the ticket price to get to.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dr. T and his Women, he would have paid...
A total disappointment. A brief topless bit by Hunt is enough to perk up any of us who carry a torch for the lady, but it's wasted in this flick.
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