Where the Heart Is

John Boorman has made several remarkable films, including Point Blank, Deliverance and Excalibur. Best of all is Hope and Glory, based on the writer-director's reminiscences of growing up in England during the Blitz. He's also made some mistakes (Zardoz, Exorcist II). This whopper, unfortunately, belongs in the second category.

An overscaled family comedy, handsomely shot by Peter Suschitzky, the film plays like the pilot for a moronic TV sitcom. Dabney Coleman, the tube's Buffalo Bill and Slap Maxwell, does his usual grouch-with-a-heart-of-marshmallow number. He plays Stewart McBain, a demolitions magnate who gets miffed at his spoiled kids (Uma Thurman, Suzy Amis and David Hewlett), throws the coddled brats out of his Manhattan town house and forces them to live in a grungy abandoned building in Brooklyn and find work. Joanna Cassidy, a strong actress reduced to playing a dithering mom, has little to do but fret over her castoff brood.

Naturally, after a few setbacks, the kids all prosper and learn self-reliance. Hewlett proves a computer whiz; Thurman learns magic; and Amis excels in art. Boorman gives generous screen time to Amis's trompe l'oeil paintings, which incorporate painted bodies. The gimmick allows most of the cast, including the quirky Crispin Glover as a designer everybody thinks is gay, to get naked. Painted by Timna Woollard, a Boorman family friend, the art is a welcome distraction from the script.

The blame for that atrocity must be shared by Boorman and his daughter Telsche, who have put uncommonly dopey dialogue into the mouths of the attractive cast. Christopher Plummer, hamming outrageously as a homeless man befriended by the McBains, comes off the worst. Because of his frequent trips to the toilet, the kids nickname him Shitty. If the film eventually is spun off into a TV series, they'll have to change his name to something more suitable for family viewing, perhaps Caca. As for describing Where the Heart Is, pick your own euphemism.