March 13, 2000 12:00 PM

Bette Midler, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Neve Campbell, Casey Affleck, William Fichtner

Like lightning, inspiration rarely strikes the same spot twice. In 1986’s Ruthless People, a fiendishly funny black comedy, Midler played a woman so vile that when she is kidnapped, her businessman husband (DeVito) passes on paying her ransom. In the far-inferior Drowning Mona, Midler again is cast as a harridan, but this time someone cuts the brake lines on her Yugo and the car plunges into a lake, resulting in Midler’s soggy demise. DeVito is back too, as the sheriff investigating the case. Everyone in town, he soon discovers in this labored comedy, had reason to wish Mona gone.

Drowning sinks from the start. Director Nick Gomez (illtown) shows no affinity for the material, letting his talented cast, including Campbell as DeVito’s daughter and Curtis as a waitress, ham it up as if they were in a Saturday Night Live sketch. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: All wet

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