The Big Pill

It's amazing what passes for deep thinking in Southern California. Lawrence Kasdan's godawful Grand Canyon combines a heavy dose of New Age psycho-babble, some lame platitudes about race relations, and a spoonful of pseudo-mystical pap on the possibilities of transcendence in evil, chaotic Los Angeles. Kasdan (The Accidental Tourist, Body Heat) and his co-writer, wife Meg, clearly believe this adds up to a profound survey of The Way We Live Now and our Quest for Truth and Light in a Dangerous World. Hardly. It's a lame suburbanite's jittery view of town. It's sanctimonious drivel.

Kasdan presumed to sum up the Sixties with The Big Chill. In Canyon he's assembled another ensemble cast and flung it at the Nineties. Overwrought Kevin Kline stars as a yuppie immigration lawywer named Mack who has a vision of his mortality when his BMW breaks down in the ghetto. Danny Glover is the quiet black tow-truck driver who saves him from a gang of toughs, then becomes his friend. Mary McDonnell plays Mack's wife, who has a vision when she finds an abandoned baby along her jogging path. Steve Martin's the blustering action-movie director who has a vision when he's shot in the leg in a parking lot. Mary-Louise Parker and Alfre Woodard are office friends struggling to make it in the city. No one is very likable, but their lives all come to be interconnected, of course. Each character's a mouthpiece behind which you can hear the writers' little minds whirring away.

The Kasdans combine the worst elements of TV evangelism ("love thy neighbor!"), psychodrama ("we're all in this together"), and half-wit sociology, then fuse them in an urban soap opera which reveals no grasp of urban life. A teen-ager's driving lesson is given the same weight as a drive-by shooting; an earthquake is ominously linked to the constant presence of a police helicopter overhead. The City of Angels is dark and threatening, kiddies, and don't you forget it.

Grand Canyon's burgeoning friendships and supposed turning points might make some sense if the Kasdans didn't insist so about their importance. Instead, they wail away at us like a couple of blacksmiths, lest we miss the point. There's something so sticky and precious about their most cherished beliefs that, by the end, you feel as though a lump of nougat has been jammed down your throat; you'll want to spit it back in their faces.

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; screenplay by Meg and Lawrence Kasdan; with Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, and Mary McDonnell.

Rated R.
Opens Friday.


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