Joel Siegel Reviews 'Town & Country'

April 27, 2001 -- It took three years for Town & Country to — in the words of the New York Times — "stumble to a theater near you." If this film somehow stumbles anywhere near you here's my advice — move.

Town and Country set a record — the opening has been postponed a record 13 times. The studio, New Line, admitted to last October that the budget had ballooned to more than $80 million. The president of the studio (now the former president of the studio) told the Times he traces "everything back to shooting the movie without a locked script."

Making a Bad Thing Worse

If you watch the film, you get the feeling people involved knew it was in terrible trouble. But everything they did to fix it — adding characters, adding subplots, cutting scenes — made things even worse.

Town & Country has a promising opening. Warren Beatty, seated in bed, listens to a half-nude Nastassja Kinski play the cello. And we listen to Beatty's narration: "This was a mistake. I'd been married 25 years, it was a mistake, it will never happen again."

CUT to Beatty and Diane Keaton seated opposite Gary Shandling (a late replacement for Gerard Depardiu) and Goldie Hawn, in Paris, celebrating the Beatty's 25th wedding anniversary. The gaiety seems forced but these are big stars, great actors, very likeable.

They fly back to New York in a private jet. A private jet, I asked myself? This took me out of the movie. Beatty is an architect, Keaton's a designer, and Shandling owns an antique store. Comedy needs to be anchored in some kind of reality.

Another rule of comedy, even more basic: you only laugh if you know no one gets hurt. But when Shandling has an affair and Hawn finds out. Then Kinski tells Beatty she's pregnant. And what might have been funny can't be.

The cast tries to leaven the underlying sadness. But foul language and bad slapstick make for some embarrassing moments, and these mistakes pile up geometrically.

Beatty Goes Bear

For no reason, the film takes us to Sun Valley, Idaho. A press release proudly announces that filmmakers had to manufacture 50 tons of ice a day to make it look like winter. I ask: Why? Why Sun Valley? The scenes would have played as well in Toledo, Ohio. Or Toledo, Spain for that matter.

Why winter? There is nothing that happens that wouldn't play as well in spring or fall. In fact, there is a Halloween party, so it is fall. These are the scenes that feature Beatty in a head-to-toe polar bear costume. I ask: Why? The costume covers one of the most famous faces in Hollywood. I come up with two possible answers. Either he had other commitments and it's not Beatty in the suit or he told the studio the only way he'd shoot these scenes is if he didn't have to show his face.

It's in Sun Valley where we meet the distinguished stage actress, Marian Seldes. Someone must have thought, "Oh, yes, it's going to be funny to see this distinguished looking woman in her 70s, in a wheel chair, spewing non-stop drill sergeant profanity." Wrong.

In one scene, Charlton Heston walks in on Andie MacDowell (who plays his daughter) and Warren Beatty.

"You are the prince," Heston tells Beatty. "My daughter is the princess. The prince must conquer the dragon to win the princess and I am that dragon." At which point he roars, showing each and every one of his very long teeth. I felt sorry for Mr. Heston. I also worry for the director. Mr. Heston knows a lot of guys with guns. Grade: D.

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