February 15, 1993 12:00 PM

Ellen Burstyn, Olympia Dukakis, Diane Ladd, Danny Aiello

Suppose you’re the producer of a comedy movie about three aging while Jewish widows contemplating their vacant social lives as they gather to visit the graves of their late husbands. Which director would you recruit? Would a man whose directorial work has been defined by A Rage in Harlem and the drug war film Deep Cover be your choice? Well, that’s who the producers of The Cemetery Club went for. The result is director Bill Duke’s seemingly well-intentioned but cliché-driven film that is part Steel Magnolias, part Marty and part Cocoon.

The plot revolves around Burstyn’s reluctant relationship with Aiello, a retired cop who picks her up in the cemetery, where he’s visiting his wife’s grave.

Writer Ivan Menchell seems to think that one of the side effects of menopause is simplemindedness. Burstyn and her lifelong best friends, Dukakis and Ladd, all appear to be astonishingly naive and twittery for mature, modern women with grown children. The mere suggestion of sex sets them all adither.

While the lead actresses are all over 60, Burstyn seems much younger and livelier. That is hardly Duke’s fault. But he also shows little control over his stars’ quirks, especially Ladd’s tendency to overreact to her own lines, Dukakis’s sour, reflexive sarcasm and Aiello’s lack of subtlety. Menchell’s script doesn’t help anyone, brimming with such pearls of pseudo-wisdom as “Sometimes life is hell; sometimes it’s a bummer.” (PG-13)

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