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Bad Manners

Wes (David Strathairn) suffers the trials of a suburban fortysomething middling academic. Passed over for tenure, he's locked in a loveless marriage to Harvard professor Nancy (Bonnie Bedelia) and fears that further emasculation looms via a visit from Nancy's ex-flame Matt (Saul Rubinek). Matt brings along his steady, Kim (Caroleen Feeney), whose devilish way with a mouthful of cigarette smoke proves irresistible to blueballed Wes. Soon after their arrival, Wes loses 50 bucks and suspects one of them has taken it, launching a convoluted game of wordplay and deception.

Director Jonathan Kaufer is better at stirring feelings of domestic claustrophobia in his audience than engaging them in gamesmanship. Weighed down by David Gilman's clunky, self-consciously caustic script--imagine Hank from Larry Sanders trying to write an episode of Seinfeld--the principals act from the neck up, and Kaufer films them accordingly. Bedelia finds a few interesting wrinkles in her wry, martyred wife but is overshadowed by stone-faced Strathairn, who doesn't speak his lines so much as chew them up and spit them out. His performance is so staggeringly bad--at once perfunctory and overwrought--that you think he might be trying to sabotage the film. Given the material,he needn't have gone to such trouble.

 
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