Maxie Misses By a Mile

B efore Maxie was even halfway over, I began looking for a bag to wear over my head on the

Before Maxie was even halfway over, I began looking for a bag to wear over my head on the way out.

Few movies in recent memory have been as embarrassingly bad as this illstarred supernatural comedy. Although it would take days of labor and volumes of paper to fully enumerate the faults of the film, here is a brief sketch.

The plot of Maxie sounds stupid, and on the screen it is even stupider than it sounds.

Jan (Glenn Close) and Nick (Mandy Patinkin) are a San Francisco couple whose state of yuppie nirvana is suddenly and supposedly humorously disrupted when Jan's body is taken over by the ghost of a flapper starlet named Maxie Malone.

Maxie, we learn, was killed in a car wreck just as her movie career was beginning, and now that she has control over Jan's body, she tries to make a comeback.

The real comedy is supposed to occur when Maxie and Jan struggle for use of the body. When Close is boring and dull, we know that Jan is in control; when she is loud and obnoxious and talks like an odd synthesis of Mae West and Betty Boop, we know Maxie is in the driver's seat. There are some funnyish scenes when Maxie takes over at inopportune moments, like when Jan is at a society fundraiser, or when she is in bed with Nick, but her character is simply not interesting enough to keep these scenes alive.

Even though there is comic potential in the relationship between Maxie and Nick, their dialogue is so badly written that the humor level never exceeds that of an ambitious Crest commercial. Nick's reaction to his wife's possession is interesting at first, but once he stops being Maxie's victim and becomes her mentor, delivering lines like "Maxie, you know that people get old when they don't die young," it all goes down the toilet.

After what seems like a good seven hours, the film reaches its ending, which is so sugary and predictable that its only merit is allowing the audience to go home.

Who is to blame for this cinematic fiasco?

The stupidity of the concept itself should be credited to Jack Finney, whose novel Marion's Wall was the basis for the screenplay.

As for the screenwriters and director Paul Aaron, they should be recognized for making a bad thing worse. The dialogue is such a hodgepodge of throwaway witticisms that it has virtually no substance.

Aaron's direction is so unimaginative and deliberate that one gets the feeling that Maxie is a television sitcom. In fact, there are awkward pauses after many jokes, as if Aaron was expecting a laugh track to be put in. Even the soundtrack sounds like something from TV, resembling the Mary Tyler Moore theme when the mood is happy, and the MASH theme when it is bittersweet.

Glenn Close has proven that she is an excellent actress in films such as The big chill and The World According to Garp, and she does her best here, but it just isn't enough to salvage Maxie. Indeed, it's remarkable she doesn't fail completely in light of the lines Maxie is given. The script, which manages to cram at least five 20's cliches into every sentence, must have been hard for Close to read without either laughing or bursting into tears.

The script is not Close's only problem here. She is also grossly miscast. She is by far too wholesome and maternal looking to be convincingly sexy as Maxie. In The Natural, she was an angel; in Garp, she was immaculately conceived. Thus, when Close slinks around a piano cooing "Bye Bye Blackbird," it's kind of disturbing, like watching your mother do a striptease act.

Mandy Patinkin is also a tragic hero in this film, striving and straining in vain to drag his role from the saccharine muck. As does Close, Patinkin makes himself likeable, playing the part of a loving, loyal husband, but the disgusting sweetness of his character, coupled with the sheer inanity of his lines, makes him unbelievable and even annoying.

It's almost worse that Close and Patinkin are so likeable. When they deliver their lines, you feel a sense of mournful embarrassment for them, like watching your best friend play a chicken in the school play.

As Jan and Nick's friendly, eccentric old landlady, the late Ruth Gordon plays the same role she has played since Rosemary's Baby, although she does not chase Close around with mandrakes and bat sperm in this picture.

The other major characters--Barnard Hughes as a would-be excorcist, and Valerie Curtin as Nick's sexually harassing boss--are such primitive caricatures that they might as well have worn giant placards saying "Sloth" and "Lust" on them.

An excellent but largely unrecognized performance is turned in by Jan and Nick's dog, who (and wouldn't you know it?) isn't listed in the credits. Since it is difficult to write dialogue for animals, and the screen-writers stopped just short of having animals talk, this dog's deadpan gaze earns perhaps the best laughs of the film.

Even if one ignores the fact that the best work in this film is done by a dog, and even if one likes light, airy comedies with no sex or bad words, Maxie cannot stand on its own. All of the comedy is too light, and all of the endings are too neat. In fact, when Maxie is over, you feel a bit nauseous, as if you have just eaten your way out of a mountain of cotton candy.

The only possible use I can see for this film is as a double feature with The Killing Fields. The question of which movie would be a relief, I leave to the audience.