ALBERT BROOKS doesn't make many films, but those he does make are always welcome.
He's done only nine movies. He's worked as an actor in five. He has written, directed and starred in four.
His newest, the fourth "Albert Brooks film," is "Defending Your Life," and Brooks fans won't be disappointed. It is a pleasing mixture of humor and sentimentality.
In it, Brooks plays an ad man who dies and finds himself at a kind of halfway station where he must defend his life before he can move on to another level, one presumably closer to heaven.
In Judgment City, new arrivals must prove they were courageous human beings. Their cases are tried in courtrooms, before judges. Each client has his defending attorney. All must face prosecutors.
"Defending Your Life" is a nice movie. That's the word for it. It never forces. You could never call it heavy. Brooks knows he'll get a laugh now and then, and he settles for that. The typical Brooks movie is a bushel, rather than a barrel of laughs, and all are accompanied by observations made from an angle.
Some say that Brooks comes from the same moody, angst-ridden landscape as Woody Allen. Maybe so, but it's a slightly different kind of humor, less Freudian, less egocentric.
Meryl Streep and Rip Torn are in the film. Streep is the woman Miller (Brooks) meets in a Judgment City night club. She doesn't have that many scenes, but she makes the most of them. She has never looked more lovely, never been more natural, more radiant.
Torn, for a change, is doing a comedy role. He is quite capable of doing it. It's just that most directors won't give him the chance. Brooks does, and Torn obliges.
Bob Diamond (Torn) is the ad man's defense attorney. Lee Grant is the prosecutor who will seek to prove that Miller was an earthbound wimp.
As they argue the case, scenes from Miller's life are reviewed. Some are quite painful. Some are funny, and that's the way the film goes, a little fun here, a little pain there.
"Defending Your Life" is another in a growing number of films in which the lead characters die and go elsewhere. In this case, the visitor is already in a kind of heaven, one where he can eat all he wants and never grow fat. He can also date if he wants, and when he meets Julia (Streep), heavenly bells begin to ring.
xTC "Defending Your Life" opens here today. If you're looking for a pleasing, reassuring film, try this one.
"Defending Your Life"
*** A man who dies in an accident must defend his life before he can make it to a plateau closer to the hereafter.
CAST: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Buck Henry
DIRECTOR: Albert Brooks
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes