January 13, 1997 12:00 PM

Shirley MacLaine, Juliette Lewis, Miranda Richardson, Bill Paxton

Audiences who wept for Debra Winger at the end of 1983’s Terms of Endearment come to this dumb sequel preconditioned to cry. They know the movie is an exercise in selecting the right character, or characters, and disposing of them in the most lachrymose manner possible. Even the actors, all performing well below standard, seem itching for a death scene as pretty as Winger’s. If a pyre were lit, they’d probably all race to hop on.

Trying to camouflage this sentimental morbidity, director Robert Harling, who adapted the screenplay from Larry McMurtry’s 1992 novel of the same name, piles on plot. MacLaine reprises her role as the exasperatingly willful Aurora Greenway, who has done a bad job raising her grandchildren. One is in jail, another has an illegitimate child, and the third is Juliette Lewis. Miserable with failure, MacLaine sees a counselor (Paxton) and ends up having a fling with him. She has emotional ups and downs with her maid (Marion Ross). She even has an encounter with Jack Nicholson, her astronaut lover from Terms, who strolls in, charming but aimless, for a few minutes. The story is so diffuse, the audience may be too distracted to cry. (PG-13)

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