VIDEOLess Entertaining Than Mr. T – “Dr. T and the Women”

“Dr. T and the Women” is amazing. Unfortunately, it’s amazing in all the wrong ways. It’s amazing how they could put the notoriously female-friendly Richard Gere in the role of a gynecologist who believes that “women, by nature, are saints” and still not appeal to many women. It’s amazing how they could cast no less than a dozen talented women in a movie without having one believable or sympathetic character in the bunch.

Perhaps more amazing than any of that is how they could have two well-known actresses appear stark raving naked, not to mention the lesbian Dallas Cowgirl cheerleader, and still not appeal to the lonely male audience.

This is the sad reality of Robert Altman’s latest film, “Dr. T and the Women.” Altman is best known for his complex, character-driven films featuring large ensemble casts, such as “M*A*S*H” and “Short Cuts.” Lately it seems that he’s been slipping, and this movie isn’t a step in the right direction.

The big, painful difference between Altman’s earlier works and “Dr. T and the Women” lies in the depth and development of the characters. Just like “M*A*S*H,” “Short Cuts” and “Nashville,” the point of the movie is the group of intriguing people you meet along the way. “Dr. T and the Women” presents us with Dr. T himself, an interesting and well-drawn character, surrounded by mobs of shrieking, one-dimensional, stereotyped shrews.

If you’re going to introduce a dozen or more leading characters in a two-hour movie, their scenes need to be powerful and insightful. What the filmmakers give us instead are one-joke characters with very little development through the course of the movie. With a few exceptions, the women of this movie make a first impression, then never really stray from what you expect. The result is boring and more than a little irritating.

Dr. T himself is a solid character, but he suffers from a heavy-handed attempt by writer Anne Rapp to make him the perfect man. He’s a doctor, he’s a nice guy, and he’s apparently pretty easy on the eyes. He gives ill-timed speeches on how every woman is unique and special, and how “they are sacred…and should be treated that way.” It’s not too bad yet, but to really drive his Mr. Perfect persona over the top, his wife, played by Farrah Fawcett, suffers from something they call a “Hestia Complex.” The idea is that he loves her so much and has taken such good care of her that she has no problems left, so she’s mentally reverted back to childhood in order to put some mystery and risk back into her life.

That’s right. The big problem in his life is that he loves his wife too much and has taken away all of her problems and doubts. Women, are you swooning yet? Probably not, and your knees won’t exactly be shaking when he proves how much he loves his wife by sleeping with Helen Hunt.

For fans of Altman’s directing style, the first bad sign is a the long tracking shot that introduces the main characters. To create a shot like this, the actors are choreographed precisely in order to produce a scene several minutes long without a single camera cut. Unfortunately, this admittedly very difficult technique has been used in one of Altman’s earlier films, “The Player,” which simultaneously spoofed the technique of the long opening tracking shot. A humble suggestion for Altman: once you spoof something in your own work, never EVER use it seriously again.

“Dr. T and the Women” tries to be several different kinds of movies, and it fails on every count. As a romance, “Dr. T and the Women” just doesn’t come close. As a simple story about a group of interesting people, it lacks the interesting people. As an example of Altman’s skills, well, maybe everyone will just remember his other films and let this one quietly pass. Meanwhile, we’ll all just watch “M*A*S*H” again and wait for Altman to remember what it was that made his earlier films so great._________________________________________

“Dr. T and the Women” (2000)Directed by Robert AltmanWritten by Anne RappStarring Richard Gere and Helen HuntArtisan Entertainment