March 13, 2000 12:00 PM

Madonna, Rupert Everett, Benjamin Bratt, Illeana Douglas

Julia Roberts was smart not to jump into making a sequel to My Best Friend’s Wedding with costar Rupert Everett. If she had, that movie might have ended up the same caterwauling folly that is The Next Best Thing, a hokey drama about what happens when a straight woman and a happily homosexual man have a baby.

Despite its up-to-date gay twist, Next is a decidedly old-fashioned weepie with Everett doing his impression of Barbara Stanwyck as self-sacrificing Stella Dallas. He plays a gardener in L.A. who, after a long day of drinking, sleeps once with his best friend (Madonna), a yoga instructor. Before you can say, “Ever hear of condoms?” she’s pregnant and they have moved in together—with separate bedrooms. Life is grand for the first six years of their son’s life; then Madonna meets the investment banker of her dreams (Bratt) and soon a nasty custody battle is a-brewin’.

Next is irredeemably sappy, right down to a climactic courtroom scene, though Everett adds comic zing where he can. As for Madonna (see cover story, page 104), after 15 years of trying, it’s clear she’s not a movie star. She can act, just not especially well. You can always see her mentally flipping through possible choices of expression for a scene, settling on one and then moving just as awkwardly to the next. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Best left unseen

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