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Star power can't save the fitfully funny but incoherent midlife comedy "Town & Country." 

A Tasteless Recipe

Neither terribly bad nor terribly good, "Town & Country" features a star-studded cast operating on shockingly low-wattage. This long-awaited comedy about infidelity began shooting in 1998 and then saw its budget swell to near- "Waterworld" proportions. As the production became fodder for "Entertainment Tonight," there were countless rumors of "friction" on the set. Unfortunately, the behind-the-scenes saga of this exploration of mature marital relations is far more compelling than the finished product.

Awash in Oscar winners and nominees, "Town & Country" could have been a contender. At the very least, it should have been much funnier and a heck of a lot more romantic.

The setting is Upper East Side Manhattan. The characters: two well-to-do couples who've shared a great deal during their friendships and lengthy marriages. When we meet Ellie (Diane Keaton) and Porter Stoddard (Warren Beatty), they're celebrating 25 years of marital bliss. Or are they? Offering a toast to Ellie and Porter's staying power are best friends Mona (Goldie Hawn) and Griffin (Garry Shandling), who have a few secrets of their own.

Porter appears to be experiencing a classic case of midlife crisis, which he seems eager to resolve in the equally time-honored fashion of cheating on his wife. However, it's his buddy Griffin who actually is the first to commit adultery, becoming just the push Porter needs to follow his own lustful heart with a beautiful but neurotic cellist (Natassja Kinski). But when Porter hears Mona has filed for divorce, that brings Porter up short. He quickly pulls back from his affair, but then the strangest thing happens — he turns into a babe magnet. He can't shake them.

Women are everywhere, throwing themselves at him. Among those who won't take "no" for an answer are Andie MacDowell and Jenna Elfman.

Structurally, "Town & Country" plays like an ill-fitting marriage of several different movies, featuring the same well-worn cast. One of the movies is a slapstick sex farce from the '60s, the second wants to be a circa '70s "Love Boat" vignette where all is resolved happily by the movie's end, and the third feels like a Woody Allen castoff.

Individually, each movie has its merits. Conjoined, they're worthless. Which is not to say that the movie doesn't have its funny moments. It does, and some of them are genuinely hilarious. But whether one chalks it up to all those well-reported rewrites or that ubiquitous on-set creative friction, many of the scenes seem artificially abbreviated. Consequently, even the funny scenes feel constrained, with the movie's overly jaunty musical score trying to compensate for the lack of wit and punch.

Beatty wanders through the film with a befuddled look on his face, as if he's not sure which rewrite he's delivering. That befuddlement continues to the end of the movie, when Beatty's character's voice-over narration seems to contradict what we're seeing on the screen. Thank heavens for Shandling, who provides the movie with most of its laughs. As for the women, Hawn turns in her trademark Goldie performance, while Keaton wallows in an off-putting portrait of a self-involved, busybody. While their men head off to Sun Valley for a no-women retreat, the two women bond, dissect their respective marriages and hubbies, and then file for divorce.

And they call this a romantic comedy.

The movie's farcical denouement has all of the women in Porter's life convening by chance in the same location. But just when the comic complications and momentum are starting to percolate, the movie fades to that aforementioned contradicting final narration.

With its impressive cast, fat budget and massive edits, "Town & Country" seemingly had all the necessary ingredients for a tasty marital romp with veteran performers showing they've still got it. Instead, the final result is rather tasteless, with all four stars playing tired versions of their once-charming stock characters. "Town & Country" wants to be smart, witty and drop-dead New York. It doesn't come close.

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