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Movie Review

Multiple Sarcasms

At age 19, Timothy Hutton won an Oscar for "Ordinary People," right at the beginning of his career. Following that were highlights like "The Falcon and the Snowman" and the underrated "Beautiful Girls," but he's never really had the career his early co-stars and contemporaries Sean Penn and Tom Cruise have. His latest movie, the independent "Multiple Sarcasms," proves that with the right material, he's still a terrific actor. But although it serves as a nice showcase for Hutton, the debut feature from writer-director Brooks Branch exists largely as an indulgent character study of a man at a crossroads.

The premise is certainly intriguing, set in New York circa 1979. Hutton plays Gabriel, a highly successful architect with the seemingly perfect life and family, including wife Annie (Dana Delany) and daughter Elizabeth (India Ennenga). There's a gay co-worker he can talk to (Mario Van Peebles) and lifelong best friend Cari (Mira Sorvino) he cares for. So what's wrong with this picture? Gabe just can't seem to get a handle on why he's so unhappy and spends his days going alone to the same movie, Burt Reynolds' marital comedy "Starting Over." Suddenly the midlife crisis takes over; he quits his job, locks himself in the bathroom with a typewriter and voice recorder, and begins to write a play about the state of his life and the people around him. Predictably, this self-obsessed journey takes its toll on his real life, and soon he finds himself questioning everything he has ever committed to, realigning his priorities as he discovers who he is and what he wants.

Branch's ideas are interesting, but his central conceit and character are so quirky that it may be a little polarizing to many in the audience—which is probably why the movie, filmed more than three years ago, has taken this long to get into theaters. Nevertheless, it provides ample opportunity for Hutton to display his talents. Gabriel could have been a dreary one-note role, but Hutton makes him oddly endearing as a guy reassessing his life by jumping into art. It's not entirely credible, however, that this playwriting novice could get a top literary agent (Stockard Channing) who is so easily able to sell his work to Broadway. Channing is her usual spirited self as the eager agent, Delany is warm and understandably perplexed at the direction her marriage is taking, while Sorvino is believable as Gabriel's tortured soul mate. Van Peebles, complete with 1970s Afro, is nicely understated, and Ennenga is swell as the young daughter.

Ironically, final scenes showing the play-within-a-play are the best written of the film. We would almost rather see this guy's fictional work than the movie we just spent 97 minutes watching about its creation.

Genre:  Comedy/Drama.
Written by: Brooks Branch and Linda Morris.
Directed by: Brooks Branch.
Starring:  Timothy Hutton, Mira Sorvino, Stockard Channing, Dana Delany, Mario Van Peebles, India Ennenga.

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