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The Moviegoer Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice

By Frank Rich

At the Cheri II

AH. LIFE! Ah, philosophy Ah, shit ... Consider the possibilities. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, consider the...

Consider: Bob (Robert Culp) and Carol (Natalie Wood) are young and rich and good looking and hip (?). They live in Southern California and one weekend, decide to go to an Esalen-esque sensitivity institute. There they discover love and humanity and liberation.

Ted (Elliott Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon) are young and rich and good looking and square (!) . They are friends of Bob and Carol and are soon freaked out and shocked by Bob and Carol's new lifestyle, which includes such things as talking to head waiters as if they were human and having extra-marital affairs right out in the open as if there were nothing wrong with it.

So, consider the conflict that forms the basis for Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker's new film, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice: Who is right? Liberated Bob and Carol or conventional Ted and Alice? Need I tell you? (Hint: This movie was made in Hollywood, of and by and for Americans.)

But it isn't that simple. The conflict in this movie isn't that simple because Bob and Carol are hip (?) and Ted and Alice are square (!) Right?! Of course, right. From the very beginning. in that Hollywood fashion we all love and adore, writer-producer Tucker and writer-director Mazursky have stacked the cards against Bob and Carol. They do this by making Bob and Carol not so much liberated as pseudo-liberated. Bob and Carol think they are hip, but as the audience happily discovers, they are actually phonies and assholes. Robert Culp is a middle-aged Peter Fonda who wears beads only because he's rich enough to get away with it: Natalie Wood is one of those snotty rich girls who sends her children to progressive schools and works for McCarthy. Bob and Carol are, shall we say, effete impudent snobs. Of course they can't be right in the end.

And consider this: Ted and Alice are square (!). They are nice squares they are friendly squares, they are lovable squares. They have your sympathies from the outset-not only by default, but because they really are swell people. They want to be able to smoke pot without coughing; they want to believe in Esalen; they want to dig wife-swapping. If they rather than Bob and Carol, had gone to Esalen, they might even have been saved.

With Bob and Carol as their spiritual advisers, however, it is only natural that they should end up with their middle-class values intact. The only possibility Tucker and Maszurky give Ted and Alice to consider is Southern California's Rolls-Royce variety of bohemia. And for that reason, the movie is a cop-out; the supposed Bob and Carol versus Ted and Alice conflict does not exist as Bob and Carol are paper tigers; it is all, so to speak, philosophically shitty.

BY ALL RIGHTS, then, we should hate Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. But consider: Ted and Alice are the most convincing married couple to appear in a Hollywood film for a long time. As played by Gould and Cannon, they are funny and sometimes touching and always appealing. Even if Hollywood still has to sell-out when it presents revolutionaries, it has at least learned to give us human straight guys.

And consider: Mazursky has directed the picture in the best Hollywood comedy tradition. A superficial tradition, yes-but not without its own special kind of wit and pleasantries. Like Robert Aldrich (in such kitsch as The Legend of Lylah Clare ). Mazursky has learned how to give vulgarity a good name.

Mazursky has also learned to stop copping out on some small philosophical points. For instance, since he made I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, he has clearly done a little pot smoking; the "getting stoned" scene in his new picture has no freaking out and colored lights. Mazursky provides, at last, an honest, non-exploitational treatment of the joys of grass in a Hollywood film.

Consider, then, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. It is a movie that is at once hateful and likable, controversial and mundane, fascinating and stupid. Should you waste your time with this sort of thing? Yes and no.

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