January 25, 1988 12:00 PM

Not that psychotherapy is beyond cinematic reproach. The field has been artfully devastated, to varying degrees of viciousness, by such films as A Clockwork Orange, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dressed to Kill and High Anxiety. (And remember that Ronald Reagan was playing a psychologist in Bedtime for Bonzo.) This comedy, however, ought to provide a Ph.D. candidate or two with a dissertation on self-destructiveness. Directed by Michael (The Golden Child) Ritchie, the film has some early moments as Dan Aykroyd escapes from an Illinois institution for the criminally insane. By engineering a case of mistaken identity, he ends up filling in for Charles Grodin, a multimedia Los Angeles shrink who has had a nervous breakdown and needs “someone who can take over my practice without really curing anyone.” Aykroyd is appealingly low-key as he becomes a hit on a radio call-in show and threatens to make everyone forget Grodin. His best joke, though, is an old one: “I have a patient who told me that one night he dreamed he was a tepee and the next night he dreamed he was a wigwam. I told him he was too tense.” Most of the dialogue is insipid. Walter Matthau, as a kind of vagrant who recognizes Aykroyd for a fraud, says he doesn’t like therapists because “all that honesty gets icky.” Donna Dixon (Mrs. Aykroyd in real life), as Grodin’s colleague in therapy, has to answer, “Sometimes the truth is icky.” The last half of the plot gets increasingly desperate, ending up with a monumentally silly scene on top of the Hollywood sign. Matthau, with food dribbling out the corners of his mouth, is unfortunately repugnant. The movie ultimately seems like a prime candidate for such drastic treatment as immediate consignment to the videotape shelf. (R)

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