April 12, 1993 12:00 PM

Beau Bridges, Stockard Channing, Robert Sean Leonard, Mary Stuart Masterson, Cybill Shepherd, Ron Silver, Donna Vivino

Suggesting a hybrid between that shallowest, most naive and unfunny of TV series, I Love, American Style, and the convoluted, pretentious Woody Allen meditation on marriage and love, Alice, this would-be comedy is about three obnoxious Manhattan couples whose marriages are in various states of unrest.

Bridges is a social worker married to Channing. Silver is a toy manufacturer whose stuffy, investment banker second wife, Shepherd, doesn’t get along with his 13-year-old daughter, Vivino. Leonard and Masterson are a young couple from Iowa. He is an investment counselor; she is a school psychologist, which provides a pretext for everyone to meet, since the other couples both have children at the school.

Director Arthur Hiller and screenwriter Janet Kovalcik make it difficult to care about any of the couples, for whom inventive dialogue includes lots of cheap-shot jokes about Iowa and New Jersey. They are particularly hard on the women. Shepherd is photographed in such a way as to make her look as massive as an NFL linebacker. Masterson is given a demeaning monologue in which—ostensibly to assert her independence from the mildly oppressive Leonard—she shows how many parts of speech the F word can be turned into. Channing, made to look chronically frumpy, also keeps berating Bridges, who is in typical nice-guy mode, for being too nostalgic about his time as an antiwar activist in the ’60s.

The only real acting to be done is by newcomer Vivino, who effectively evokes sympathy as the mistreated daughter. If you’re asking, “Married to what?”—in this movie’s case the answer is “mediocrity.” (R)

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