Hollywood 'comedians' mail one in


Dear God, or Dear Postal Workers, as the case may be: Could you please tell Hollywood there is no law that says comedies have to be stupid?

Take "Dear God," for instance, which I'm sure you've seen, being in heaven and all. Let me sum up for the angelic secretary reading this letter, who probably never gets out to the theater: Greg Kinnear, lately of "Sabrina," plays Tom, a small-time grifter who's in deep to his loan shark and gets busted when he tries to scam some cops.

His punishment? Get a job. At the post office, to be exact, in the dead-letter office, a variation on hell. There, letters to you (God) accumulate, and through mishaps more than kindness, Tom and his colleagues begin to help those who have written. Then there's a frenzy of publicity on the scale of the O. J. Simpson trial (there's even a cameo by Christopher Darden), a transformed Tom is busted again for tampering with the mail, and there's a silly courtroom finale.

Thanks to the charming and clever talk-show-host-turned-actor Kinnear, and support from Tim Conway as a cracked deliveryman and Laurie Metcalf of "Roseanne" as a burned-out lawyer/sorter, this is sometimes an amusing movie. But it fails in its attempt to be meaningful when screenwriter Warren Leight ++ pours on the sugar and bludgeons the audience into brain death with fruitcakes (namely, the postal workers).

Sentimental Christmas movies about ordinary people doing amazing things often try to capture the spirit of "It's a Wonderful Life." But what modern filmmakers don't seem to realize is that, at the core of the Frank Capra classic, there is darkness -- Mr. Potter's greed, the working folks' poverty and George Bailey's frustration, despair and suicidal thoughts. "Dear God" and movies of its ilk fail because they turn anything or anyone that desperate into a cartoon.

The film is mildly entertaining and has good intentions. But it's kind of dull and drawn out and not that surprising.

So, God -- or postal workers -- can't you lose screenplays this vapid in the mail?

'Dear God'

Starring Greg Kinnear, Laurie Metcalf and Tim Conway

Directed by Garry Marshall

Released by Paramount

Rated PG (kisses, punches)

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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