In 'Grand Canyon,' Kline returns to good-guy role


NEW YORK -- Kevin Kline is being a good guy again.

It's a role the actor has played before, most notably in 1983's "The Big Chill," in which he portrayed a successful businessman and unofficial patriarch of a small circle of old college friends.

In subsequent years, his roles have had much more panache, ranging from the caustic cowboy in "Silverado," to an insatiable Italian pizza maker in "I Love You to Death," to his Oscar-winning performance as Otto West, the profoundly stupid crook, in "A Fish Called Wanda." His last role was as a has-been soap-opera actor in the farce "Soapdish."

But in "Grand Canyon," Kline returns to the details and decency of everyday people.

The film, released nationally tomorrow, is directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who guided Kline in "The Big Chill" as well as in "Silverado" and "I Love You to Death."

Speaking from the offices of a Manhattan publicist, a personable Kline, who can easily downshift from the serious to the silly, says he recognizes a kinship between the character of Harold, which he played in "The Big Chill," and his Mack of "Grand Canyon."

"I think they're cousins in a way," says the 44-year-old actor who has aged very little since "The Big Chill" and reflects that character's nice-guy center. "If you took Harold after 10 more years of accumulating wealth and raising his kids, I think he would be facing a lot of this stuff that Mack is facing, especially if he lived in the city. But even if he lived in the suburbs, he'd be facing these same questions: 'What does my life mean, given the fragility of everything, the polarization of our country, the economy, the racial [tensions]?' "

In the film, Kline plays an immigration lawyer who is happily married and the father of a teen-age son. He and his wife, along with their old and new friends, live in Los Angeles, but the city seems dark, surreal, almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Residents seem immune to the scenes of violence, sadness and decay.

But Kasdan combines this loss of humanity, purpose and identity with blessed events, renewed faith and sense of destiny that are spiritually uplifting.

Like "The Big Chill," "Grand Canyon" is an ensemble film that weaves the various characters' stories into a thematic whole. "Grand Canyon" also stars Mary McDonnell ("Dances With Wolves"), Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Alfre Woodard and Mary-Louise Parker ("Longtime Companion").

Kline says that, like "The Big Chill," "Grand Canyon" is very specific to the baby boom generation, yet it resonates for other people as well.

He tells of a college crowd that responded well to the film. He says they told him "it was all about the stuff they were thinking about, too. It is universal."

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