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'Mumford' is a forced, overly predictable bore


Arizona Daily Wildcat

Photo Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures Loren Dean (left) stars as psychologist Dr. Mumford, who finds residence in a small town that bears his name and begins dispensing advice to an array of locals, including young divorcee Sofie (Hope Davis, right) in Touchston Pictures' comedy, "Mumford."

By Casey Dexter
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
September 24, 1999

Lawrence Kasdan must have had a lot of brussels sprouts and broccoli as a child. Mom and Dad definitely instilled the value of a wholesome meal into their young son - as well as the best methods to use in shoving unwanted material down a susceptible throat. Because some 40 odd years later, he took them and created "Mumford," an exercise in the art of forcing information on an audience.

As many who have viewed a preview or print ad for "Mumford" know, the movie is about a man, Dr. Mumford (played by Loren Dean), who pretends he is a licensed psychologist in a small town, also named Mumford. His "treatment" helps everyone, despite his lack of education, and causes numerous people to fall in love. This is a fact known to any audience who has seen anything about the movie previously.

Unfortunately, the film uses this "secret" fraud as a stunning plot twist.

Kasdan fills the first half of the movie with "subtle" clues about this knowledge - forcing Dr. Mumford's mysterious past upon viewers. Every scene reveals some foreshadowing clue about his true identity. Every client's problem has something to do with giving up, abandoning a problem, living in a fantasy world or not portraying one's true self.

His secret persona is so prominent, it practically strangles the rest of the movie. And it is completely pointless since the entire theater has been informed about his impersonation from the get go.

Other foreshadowing events shove the conclusion at the viewer. Within 15 minutes of the first scene, it becomes obvious who will end up happily in love with whom, and how Dr. Mumford's fake identity will eventually be discovered. Honestly, why else would a man come home and consistently turn on "Unsolved Mysteries" unless he thought that somewhere down the line, something bad would happen to him because of it?

Additional aspects of the movie also force themselves on the audience. Take the 30-second advertisement in the middle of the film, for example.

The premise is that a girl wants to show the good doctor all the items her obsessive mother has purchased.

They walk into a room crammed with unopened boxes and bags and read off all the brand names, including Crate and Barrel and J. Crew. You name it, and it was there.

And then they shut the door and the film continues.

It was as if their sponsors put a mandatory commercial break in their contract, demanding that an overwhelming wave of ads be placed into the movie.

Even the dialogue was forced. No one actually says things like "Sounds like you got the variety pack [of life]."

The actors sounded like community theater amateurs, but that was simply the only way to say Kasdan's lines with a straight face.

There were some bright spots in the film - performances by Ted Danson, Mary McDonnell, Hope Davis and (especially) Jason Lee were fun to watch. But even these were tainted by the movie's forcefulness.

Lee plays a young billionaire who is so eccentric, he skateboards everywhere. If it remained a small character trait, it would have been a small venue for Lee's natural ability.

But instead, Kasdan has the billionaire's corporate office built with elaborate ramps, giving Lee's character the opportunity to skate on these once. It's impressive, but absolutely needless and it forces Lee's real persona on the audience, bringing them into reality and out of the movie.

In the end, Kasdan makes sure you know that the moral of his story is to live up to the life you have made for yourself. And it's a lesson that's good for you. Perhaps that was the justification in forcing the audience to watch all the artifice in "Mumford."

But Kasdan should have thought back on all those nights of eating bland, tasteless vegetables as a child. Does he actually remember each individual plate of broccoli, each portion of brussels sprouts?

Or does he simply remember the night his parents let him have his dessert first? Maybe that's the real lesson he should have come away with.

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