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Mr. America 

Mumford's hero is an everyman of the psyche — and a fraud.

Mumfords only Hope: Hope Davis (left) with Loren Dean.
  • Mumfords only Hope: Hope Davis (left) with Loren Dean.

Have you heard? The only tools a nice fellow needs to repair the damaged psyches of an entire town are a guilty conscience and a dash of insight. That, at least, is the premise of Lawrence Kasdan's silly new social parable, Mumford, in which the eponymous hero poses as a psychologist and, despite being unlettered and unread in the field, brings peace, fulfillment, and love to all the troubled souls who recline on his brown corduroy couch. Or play catch with him. Or walk in the woods with him.

It's a pretty conceit and a pretty insubstantial one. Our Mumford, who practices his craft in a town that's also called Mumford, comes straight out of the Forrest Gump School of Interpersonal Magic, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Never mind that assorted medical societies and licensing bodies will likely go mental at the idea of an imposter outshrinking the headshrinkers. It defies citizen-in-the-street, nonprofessional sense as well.

The still-boyish Loren Dean (late of Enemy of the State and Gattaca) plays the title character as an unassuming messiah who wears a mysterious little grin and an $89.95 sports jacket. Almost from the beginning, we can see that Doc Mumford's a guy with a secret life or a secret past, which is to say that, almost from the beginning, we know he's a fraud.

But that doesn't keep the Elmer Gantry of psychotherapy from providing succor to the pudgy local druggist or the alienated teenager or the local boy billionaire. Meanwhile, Sofie Crisp (Hope Davis) suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, which means that it's almost as hard for her to stay awake as it is for us as we watch this movie. You can tell from the get-go that Mumford will fall for her.

"I don't know what's real and what isn't," he allows. "That isn't my strong suit." Of that, Kasdan tries to make a movie-long obsession — even a minor religion. The billionaire boy is now developing pneumatic sex robots in his secret lab, and he can't tell how real they are. An unhappy wife and mother is compelled to order from gift catalogs, and she doesn't know what's real, emotion-wise. The local restaurant owner has exchanged romance for hot showers, and she doesn't know what she wants, either.

But the fictional Doc Mumford can fix them all up. He speaks openly about his patients' quirks and traumas (the funniest element of the movie), and he has to research every mind disorder via computer so he'll sound as if he knows what he's talking about. But hell, by the end of the proceedings, even the town's "legitimate" therapist, Ernest Delbanco, M.D. (David Paymer), is coming to him for advice.

How much longer need we go on? While diddling with dime-store metaphysics, Kasdan wants us to consider Big Questions. What's expertise? Who's really a pretender? Doesn't anyone who has made a major mistake deserve a second chance? What's the secret to life and the value of love? Okay, fine. But the dreamy cartoon-strip quality of Mumford and its sheer goofiness, rather than lightening the load of such concerns, renders them almost weightless — as if they don't matter at all. And for these two hours, they don't.

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