In a depressingly familiar situation, a cast of fine actors tuned to perfect professional pitch is let down by their writer/director.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"The Evening Star" is a basketful of bits and pieces that never quite come together as a whole. The reason for that is that Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) has held her thoroughly dysfunctional extended family together for years and is now moving inexorably toward the end of her influence.

If the movie appears untidy, so are the last years of people's lives. The slide toward dependence, the rapid loss of close friends, the need to find the old ones trigger strong emotions in older people, who know the landscape of this movie is real even if the script is mediocre.

Since we last saw Aurora in "Terms of Endearment," she has raised her daughter's orphaned children. Teddy is in jail, Melanie is running away with an aspiring underwear model, and Tommy has a horrible wife; but Aurora will set them straight with all her natural tenacity.

She is surrounded by neighbors whose affection sustains her: Arthur (the late Ben Johnson), Rosie (Marion Ross), her maid/best friend, and "the General" (Donald Moffat), with whom she once had a dull and wishful fling. More than a few in the audience will envy the close friends who pass through her kitchen daily. It's a gathering of peers, one for the other.

Still kicking up her heels, Aurora goes to Jerry Bruckner (Bill Paxton) for a little New Age therapy. Although she gets next to no advice from the grinning free spirit, she does get a few good nights in his bed, and that seems to reinvigorate her for the work she does best--meddling in the lives of her grandchildren and friends.

Shirley MacLaine's wonderful comic timing generates bursts of laughter as she pulls the audience into the perils of a meddling grandmother with an agenda of her own. Unfortunately, when the movie moves into sentimental territory, the crackle disappears.

Cliche dims even the film's brightest spot--the return of old flame Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson, who reportedly earned $1,000,000 for each of his five minutes on-screen). Still, the two old pros light up the screen, playing off each other with great skill, Nicholson's wicked grin matching MacLaine's delight at seeing him again. Forget what they're saying and just enjoy that ride down the beach.

Stacked up against the old folks, the twenty-somethings bleed away into nothing; not one of them can hold the screen with the seniors. Marion Ross and Ben Johnson stand out as peers negotiating old age. Miranda Richardson proves again that she is willing to tackle any accent, any culture, and always gets it right. As Patsy, Aurora's rich Texas rival, Richardson is consistently and marvelously empty.

In a depressingly familiar situation, a cast of fine actors tuned to perfect professional pitch is let down by their writer/director. It's a popular sport these days to run down sequels, particularly this one; but in this case, the cast is reason enough to see it.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 482
Studio : Paramount Pictures
Rating : PG-13
Running Time: 2h0m

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