January 13, 1992 12:00 PM

Kevin Kline, Danny Glover

Early in this meandering but gratifyingly complex movie, a well-heeled immigration lawyer (Kline) finds himself menaced by a group of toughs after his car goes kaput in a dicey neighborhood in Los Angeles. Only the timely arrival of Glover, as a tow-truck operator, saves him. Improbably, the two become buddies.

The story of how their lives, along with those of their families, lovers and friends, intersect in a crime-ridden city that has, as Kline’s character delicately puts it, “gone to s—,” is at the heart of this movie. Essentially, Grand Canyon is a big-screen thirtysomething, but with African-Americans and no whining.

Although the title does refer to that big hole out West, it also defines the chasms that separate blacks and whites, haves and have-nots, men and women, parents and kids. That’s a hefty wad of topicality for any one movie, but director-writer Lawrence Kasdan succeeds more often than not.

He is helped by winning performances from a stellar ensemble (in-eluding Mary McDonnell, Steve Martin, Mary-Louise Parker and an underused Alfre Woodard). His loopy script (cowritten with wife Meg Kasdan) constantly rescues itself from its own excesses.

Canyon, which runs over two hours, goes off on too many tangents (cut the dream sequences already!). But every time you’re ready to quit, the movie delivers a scene so funny (a young woman saying of her married lover, “One of the things I think is great about him is how devoted he is to his wife and kids”) or heartrending (a salesman trying to sell a ghetto mother life insurance for her children) that it snaps you right back. (R)

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