Mature films - you need more than elegant settings
Many moviegoers have been crying out for more mature fare, and Hollywood is trying to respond, at least a little. Whatever their pros or cons, pictures as different as ''The French Lieutenant's Woman,'' ''Body Heat,'' and ''Prince of the City'' are clearly aimed above the heads of the strictly-''Superman'' set.
But maturity, especially the self-conscious kind, is no guarantee of high quality. Take the comedy ''Rich and Famous,'' directed by George Cukor, who has been a Hollywood mainstay since 1930. In his new film, the approach is ''adult'' for better and for worse, giving us - side by side - literary quotations and four-letter outbursts, complex emotions and flat cliches, poignant midlife crises and silly second childhoods. The result is a messy mixture of the civilized and the vulgar, the thoughtful and the brainless, not redeemed by good intentions or the hard work of a professional cast.
Jacqueline Bisset plays an intellectual author with a bad case of writer's block. Candice Bergen plays her best friend, a bestselling novelist who just pours it out with hardly a second thought. This is a pregnant situation with lots of possibilities that are tantalizingly suggested but dimly developed by the film: art vs. trash, New York pretension vs. California superficiality, woman as thinker vs. woman as maker, friend vs. friend.
The trouble is, Cukor and company - taking off from a John Van Druten play - want to exploit rather than explore these provocative issues. The first half might have clicked if the pace and the mood weren't so erratic, and if the Bisset-Bergen team had more chemistry. But the second half is just a mess, as the Bisset character gets buffeted from all sides - deciding whether to vote an award for her friend's book, fending off advances from her friend's former husband, and becoming sexually involved with a Rolling Stone reporter who's years her junior but admires her tempered feminism. These plot twists are almost as grotesque as they are gratuitous, and neither the cast nor the filmmakers manage to get them under control.
None of this would matter much if Cukor weren't such a grand old person of the movies. Why has he taken on this lumpy project, with a screenplay that's overcooked when it isn't half-baked? Perhaps it appealed to his longtime instinct for films about sophisticated people in sophisticated surroundings - ''the privileged class enjoying its privileges,'' to quote from ''The Philadelphia Story,'' one of his justly famous hits.
But elegant surroundings and loquacious characters are not sufficient to assure a genuinely civilized, truly mature entertainment. ''Rich and Famous'' seeks not only to stimulate us with timeless culture, but also to divert us with trendy decadence. In attempting this balancing act, Cukor has mislaid his customary panache. Let's hope he doesn't stay muddled for long.
Other current comedies suffer from the same problems of proven talent batting its head against low-grade material. ''Paternity'' stars Burt Reynolds, and was directed by David Steinberg, who brings his own personality to the film: The tone is very like a Steinberg standup routine, and Beverly D'Angela actually looks a little like him, especially around the mouth. This is all to the good, until you realize how sleazy the story is, with Reynolds as a self-centered bachelor who wants a ''surrogate mother'' to bear a child for him.
Steinberg and his colleagues mean well, and the end is rousingly traditional - reactionary, even - in its view of marriage and family. But to reach this point, the screenplay pulls an abrupt switch, trying to cancel out the first 90 minutes by smothering us in sentimentality at the finale. It doesn't work.
And then there's ''. . . All the Marbles,'' directed by Robert Aldrich, a considerable filmmaker whose recent career has careened from the foulness of ''The Choirboys'' to the joyful warmth of ''The Frisco Kid.'' His latest hovers in between, with a heartfelt portrayal of friendship and loyalty which is, regrettably, purveyed through the sordid milieu of female professional wrestling.
One rejoices at the decency and kindness that Aldrich frequently finds in this unlikely setting. But there's no overlooking his glee in taking the protagonists to the mat for thudding closeups of mighty dubious athletics. And the presence of Peter Falk at his most amiable is not enough to wash the bad taste away. ''. . . All the Marbles'' is an example of Hollywood moviemaking at its slickest - an expertly piloted journey down a road that never should have been built in the first place.