Three Men and a Turkey

Say this for Bye Bye, Love: A quick look at the title and the cast list and you have a very good idea of exactly what to expect A a glorified TV sit-com wrapped up in feature-film clothing.

Paul Reiser, flush from the success of his popular TV series Mad About You and his best-selling book Couplehood, takes another crack at the big screen after his motion picture acting career, which began so promisingly with Diner in 1982, fizzled out in the late Eighties. He joins Matthew Modine and Randy Quaid as a trio of single dads coming to grips with fatherhood and divorce in the Nineties. Here's the story line in a nutshell: The three flawed but essentially sympathetic protagonists fight with their former wives, endure the dating wars, and take periodic custody of their kids. That's it. The rest is all riffing. Warm and fuzzy riffing at that -- none of these dads drinks too much, beats his kids, or shows any signs of stress at trying to make ends meet financially.

But who cares about plot? This is a Paul Reiser vehicle, pure and simple. Anyone who caught his act on TV's My Two Dads should be prepared for a sudden attack of dej… vu. Once again put-upon Paul does verbal battle with a precocious teenage daughter as he laments his absence of a sex life. It's not much of a stretch for Reiser, who had the cuddly kvetch shtick down to a science years ago. It's getting old.

Like Reiser, both Modine and Quaid's movie careers peaked early: the former's with his role as a shell-shocked Vietnam vet whose mind gets all fowled up in 1984's underrated psychodrama Birdy, the latter's in 1971's The Last Picture Show and 1973's The Last Detail. More recently Modine has enjoyed a few moments in the sun, notably in 1988's Married to the Mob, but he has failed to establish himself as leading-man material; 1992's abysmal Wind, which banked heavily on Modine's appeal and was blown off by both critics and audiences, didn't help his cause any. Regarding his performance in Bye Bye, Love A let's just hope he wasn't counting on it to nudge him back into the limelight.

As for Quaid, lately he has found succor on the tube in Davis Rules. Here he's over-the-top (what's new?) as the angriest member of the paternal triumvirate, and yet he still manages to breathe some life into a stiff of a part. Meanwhile Rob Reiner (Meathead!) is appropriately despicable as a radio talk-show host who dispenses unwanted advice to the burgeoning legions of bitter single pops.

So don't blame the actors for the film's failure. They try to keep this creaky ship afloat. It's the script by TV veterans Gary David Goldberg and Brad Hall that sinks it. Their blueprint gives the actors so little to do it practically begs them to mug shamelessly and hope for the best. The film is plagued by a surprising paucity of funny lines, and packs no dramatic wallop whatsoever. It reeks of sit-com formula. The television influences run deep. But the saddest part is that even if Bye Bye, Love were a pilot for a TV series, it wouldn't get picked up.

With so few good lines to go around, you'd think the principals would have fought harder to get their share. "I'm not shooting for a successful relationship at this point," a ditzy, exasperated Janeane Garofalo confides to her blind date Quaid, in the quip that elicits the film's biggest chuckle. "I'm just looking for something that will keep me from throwing myself in front of a bus."

Don't see this movie then, Janeane. Contemplating the effect that appearing in such a turkey will have on your fledgling career will depress you only more. Unless, of course, the Reiser tide lifts all boats.

 
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