`MARRIED to It" is a story about three married couples, and the best parts of the movie happen when all of them get together.
At first, when they hardly know each other, they sit in straight-backed chairs and make awkward attempts at conversation. A short while later, when they've gotten better acquainted, they eat and joke and sing an old song or two. Later still, when they've become good friends, they complain and give advice and get thoroughly into one another's hair.
It's interesting to watch their six-way relationship develop, since they appear at first to have little in common except membership on a committee at their children's school.
One couple, a social worker and a homemaker, still show evidence of an idealistic 1960s sensibility. Another, a financier and a psychologist, hardly seem old enough for the professions they've chosen. The third, a manufacturer and an heiress, seem discontented and mismatched even before sparks fly over how to handle the husband's troubled daughter from a previous marriage.
With so many main characters from so many backgrounds and walks of life, "Married to It" promises to be a lively affair. But once the couples have established their complicated set of friendships and jealousies and rivalries, the movie has no idea what to do with them.
So it plunks them into a string of episodes so contrived that even a self-respecting sitcom would feel uneasy, and wraps the package up with a pallid musical number featuring "The Circle Game" sung by junior-high kids in hippie outfits. It's a desperate maneuver with disastrous results.
The biggest irony of "Married to It" is that talented people put their energy into it and obviously tried their hardest to make it work. Stockard Channing, absent too long from the Hollywood scene, almost manages to soar above the limitations of her role as a long-suffering mom with two feisty children. Beau Bridges brings surprising maturity to his portrayal of her slightly eccentric spouse.
Mary Stuart Masterson projects a fair amount of sincerity as a well-meaning young woman whose husband gets into business trouble.
And the ever-intense Ron Silver has downright powerful moments as the toymaker juggling a wife and daughter who bring out the worst in each other.
But even performers on this level of ability need something substantial to do while they're on the screen, and Janet Kovalcik's screenplay gets weaker and weaker as the story gets longer and longer, subordinating its most provocative elements to a glassy-eyed glaze of feel-good superficiality.
The less distinguished members of the cast, such as Cybill Shepherd and Robert Sean Leonard, fare even worse with their hokey lines and artificial situations.
Little help comes from director Arthur Hiller, who tries with little success to recapture the flair of his brilliant 1979 comedy "The In-Laws," which neither he nor anyone else has yet succeeded in duplicating.
The undistinguished score was composed by Henry Mancini, also working below his highest standards, and even New York City manages to look rather boring in the background.
"Married to It" is a game try, but only the Monty Python troupe could have brought a surprising touch to its increasingly dull scenario. I found myself wishing all the characters would turn out to be John Cleese wearing silly costumes, then become animated elephants and slide right off the screen.
* `Married to It' has an * rating. It contains foul language and a cartoonish but somewhat explicit sex scene.