on September 24, 1999 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Lawrence Kasdan's variation on "Being There" has all the obviousness of his "Grand Canyon" but none of its quiet power. It's the superficial and meandering light tale of Dr. Mumford (Loren Dean), a psychologist who has come to the small town of Mumford, where in a mere few months he has become part of the community's social fabric and doctor to many of its most prominent inhabitants. But he's hiding something, and that revelation will impact many of the townfolks' lives. It may seem like a neat joke that Dr. Mumford does nothing but soak up his patients' neuroses and then let them cure themselves, but Kasdan's execution of the premise is half-hearted, pedestrian and riddled with irritatingly banal new age shibboleths.
   Since Kasdan can't quite decide on the proper balance between comedy and drama, "Mumford" frequently stalls or drifts into irrelevancy and pointlessness. This is a script that needs a lot more work. And while the nation's psychologists will rightfully view with disdain the film's premise that they're a useless bunch, audiences searching for wit or wisdom in this movie should also apply elsewhere.
   Frustratingly, except for Dean and Jason Lee as a whiz kid inventor, who are dull, the actors in "Mumford" are exceptional, particuarly Martin Short as a smarmy criminal lawyer who is suspicious of the doctor, David Paymer as another of the town's shrinks, Hope Davis as a patient of Mumford's and Alfre Woodard as his neighbor. Watching these pros at work, one wishes Kasdan had fashioned a better movie in which they could have excelled.    Starring Loren Dean, Hope Davis, Jason Lee and Alfre Woodard. Directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan. Produced by Charles Okun and Lawrence Kasdan. Comedy/Drama. A Buena Vista release. Rated R for sex-related images, language and drug content. Running time: 113 min.
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