Excruciating entry in the dysfunctional family field. Nine very good actors are wasted, if not embarrassed, by the thoroughly unconvincing shenanigans perpetrated by first-time writer-director Michael Clancy, while a tenth -- Zooey Deschanel -- somehow manages to float ethereally above it all with her dignity intact. Will hit the videostores soon enough.

“Eulogy” is an excruciating entry in the dysfunctional family field, a genre so strip-mined it ought to be retired until further notice. Nine very good actors are wasted, if not embarrassed, by the thoroughly unconvincing shenanigans perpetrated by first-time writer-director Michael Clancy, while a tenth — Zooey Deschanel — somehow manages to float ethereally above it all with her dignity intact. With withering reviews and word-of-mouth awaiting, Lions Gate shouldn’t pin much hope on theatrical returns for this one, which will hit the videostores soon enough.

Gathered in Rhode Island to bury the family patriarch (Rip Torn), members of the Collins clan are at each other’s throats in no time. Emphasizing what he imagines to be hilarious sexual practices and attitudes, Clancy makes son Daniel (Hank Azaria) a secret porn actor and daughter Lucy (Kelly Preston) a lesbian. Latter totes along her lover Judy (Famke Janssen) to the outrage of Lucy’s aggressively neurotic sister Alice (Debra Winger), whose hysterical overreaction to the pair’s marriage plans ought to tell everyone something.

Rounding out the delightful crowd are dim brother Skip (Ray Romano), whose unfailingly rude twin sons offer caustic commentary on their elders’ infantile predilections; matriarchal widow Charlotte (Piper Laurie), who becomes so justifiably distraught at the inanity of her children she tries to commit suicide; and Kate (Deschanel), a confused but comely college freshman who juggles preparation of the eulogy with internal debate over what to do with her childhood friend-turned-suitor, Ryan (Jesse Bradford).

Virtually every incident in the script feels more artificial than the last, contrived in a misguided effort to produce surprise. Taking the cake in this regard is one of the silliest and most embarrassing scenes on record, in which the hitherto virulently homophobic Alice is caught in the act in a car with accommodating nurse Samantha (Glenne Headly). Both thesps can only hope this goes as unnoticed as possible.

When Grandpa delivers an unwelcome surprise from the grave via videotape to the eager crowd at the reading of the will, one can only feel they got what they deserved. The videotape also suggests the premise for a comedy that could have been quite funny — unlike this one.

Clancy’s direction is very clumsy strictly from a staging and editing p.o.v., and tech contributions are unimpressive. Capping everything off is an insufferably corny score.

Eulogy

Production

A Lions Gate Films release of an Artisan Entertainment and Myriad Pictures presentation, in association with Ovation Entertainment, S.R.O. Entertainment, AG and Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH & Co. KG of a Haft Entertainment and Myriad Pictures production. Produced by Steven Haft, Richard B. Lewis, Kirk D'Amico. Executive producers, Lucas Foster, Kendall Morgan, Bo Hyde, Rory Rosegarten, Jonas McCord, Shelly Glasser. Co-producers, Stefan Jonas, Jeanne Van Cott. Directed, written by Michael Clancy.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Michael Chapman; editor, Richard Halsey; music, Richard Marvin; music supervisor, Chris Violette; production designer, Dina Lipton; art director, Marc Dabe; set decorator, Ryan Welsch; costume designer, Tracy Tynan; sound (Dolby Digital), Walter Martin; associate producers, Andreas Theismeyer, Gerd Koechlin; assistant director, Linda Bruchman; casting, Nancy Nayor, Patricia Kerrigan. Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, Jan. 13, 2004. (In Sundance Film Festival -- Premieres.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Daniel Collins - Hank Azaria Ryan Carmichael - Jesse Bradford Kate Collins - Zooey Deschanel Samantha - Glenne Headly Judy - Famke Janssen Charlotte "Grandma" Collins - Piper Laurie Lucy Collins - Kelly Preston Skip Collins - Ray Romano Edmund "Grandpa" Collins - Rip Torn Alice Collins - Debra Winger Fred Collins - Curtis Garcia Ted Collins - Keith Garcia Parson - Rene Auberjonois

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