[box cover]

Mixed Nuts

In a weird sort of way, you've got to hand it to Nora Ephron. Not just any director could make a comedy starring Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Rita Wilson, Rob Reiner, Garry Shandling, Liev Schreiber, Juliette Lewis, Anothy LaPaglia, Robert Klein, and, yes, even Adam Sandler, and have it turn out almost completely laugh-free. A scattered mess of a screwball film, Mixed Nuts — like its more recent cousin Drowning Mona — is a prime example of what happens when directors, screenwriters, and actors substitute forced wackiness for genuine humor. As a consequence, the story of what happens to the staff of a Venice Beach suicide-prevention hotline one chaotic Christmas Eve ends up being undermined by its own zaniness. Too many of the characters — from Sandler's baby-talking, ukulele-playing simp to Lewis's edgy earth-mother with a penchant for bright knick-knacks — are walking, talking eccentrics-with-a-capital-E. And the plot twists never ring true, even for a madcap comedy. Everything's a little too easy, a little too pat; in her hurry to get to the next (failed) punchline, Ephron doesn't allow her characters time to develop or show real reactions. For the record, as Philip — the bleeding heart who runs the Lifesavers hotline and is on the edge of financial ruin thanks to sharky landlord Stanley (Shandling) — Martin does get a few moments to do his trademarked double-takes and slow burns, and the late, great Kahn earns some giggles when her righteous character winds up stuck in an elevator. But too often the movie falls back on mayhem for the sake of mayhem, trying to make its one-note characters — like Wilson's prim, over-earnest Catherine or Schreiber's vampy drag queen — seem like comic archetypes, rather than the tired stereotypes they are. For what it's worth, the movie looks and sounds fine on DVD; both the full-screen and anamorphic (1.85:1) transfers are true and clear on Columbia TriStar's release, and the Dolby Digital 5.0 audio is more than adequate for a light comedy (English Dolby 2.0 Surround and French mono tracks are also available, as are an array of subtitles). The slim extras menu includes filmographies for Ephron and the principal cast members, the film's original trailer, and previews for related Columbia movies on DVD (one of which is, interestingly, Drowning Mona...). Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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