17 September 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

A mere 15 years after his feature debut with "Soup for One", Jonathan Kaufer weighs in with his second directorial effort, this awkward screen adaptation of a talky play.

In its depiction of two academic married couples angrily squaring off, "Bad Manners" would like to be a "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" for this decade, but its characters and ideas are irritating rather than provocative, and the net effect is less "Virginia Woolf" than crying wolf. The film recently received its world premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Adapted by David Gilman from his play "Ghost in the Machine", which had a successful off-Broadway run a couple of years back, the film depicts the dayslong encounter between two couples.

Wes (David Strathairn) is a university professor of comparative religion at a nondescript girls' school, while wife Nancy (Bonnie Bedelia) is a musicologist. Nancy's old boyfriend Matt Saul Rubinek), accompanied by his precocious younger girlfriend Kim (Caroleen Feeney), shows up to stay with them while he is in town to deliver an important speech at Harvard. Kim, a computer whiz, is assisting him on his academic project, which involves the bizarre discovery of a centuries-old musical composition in a computer-generated piece of contemporary music.

Although they are outwardly cordial, simmering tensions lie just beneath the surface of the two couples' friendly bickering and bantering. Wes and Nancy's marriage is feeling the strain of his recently being denied tenure, and Wes is further stirred up by Kim's simmering sexuality and flirtatiousness. When $50 turns up missing from Wes' wallet, it results in a series of confrontations that escalate in tension and hostility. When Matt thinks he overhears Wes and Kim making love in the downstairs living room, all hell breaks loose.

Although Gilman's screenplay delivers four sharply observed characters who are brought to vivid life by a highly skilled cast, it never lifts above the picayune in its plot line, situations and dialogue.

Still, Strathairn is particularly effective at conveying his character's underlying hostility, and Feeney, a relative newcomer, invests Kim with a compelling mixture of sultriness and edginess.

BAD MANNERS

Davis Entertainment Classics

in association with

Skyline Entertainment Partners

& Wavecrest Pictures

Director Jonathan Kaufer

Screenplay David Gilman

Producers J. Todd Harris,

Stephen Nemeth, Alan Kaplan

Executive producer John Davis

Co-producers M. Cevin Cathell, Ed Cathell III

Director of photography Denis Maloney

Musical score Ira Newborn

Editor Robin Katz

Color/stereo

Cast:

Wes Westlund David Strathairn

Nancy Westlund Bonnie Bedelia

Matt Carroll Saul Rubinek

Kim Matthews Caroleen Feeney

Professor Harper Julie Harris

Running time -- 87 minutes


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