MOVIE REVIEW : Not Even Molly Ringwald Can Save a Slapstick, Schizoid 'For Keeps'

Times Film Critic

Almost any movie with Molly Ringwald at its centerpiece has a built-in plus to it. The wonder about "For Keeps" (selected theaters) is that not even Ringwald's customary glow and bedrock believability make a smidgen of difference. Muddled it is and muddled it remains.

The second surprise comes from the writing credits. After "About Last Night," which Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue adapted inventively from David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," one wanted to see what they'd do on their own. Unfortunately, the strained slippages in their screenplay of "For Keeps" only send you away with new respect for Mamet.

It's unfortunate, since the film makers, including director John Avildsen and producers Jerry Belson and Walter Coblentz, seem willing to move a little off the beaten track on their subject of teen-age pregnancy: making their prospective parents bright and highly motivated, for example, or suggesting that a very young mother might have some real feelings of rejection toward her baby. (Even one this adorably "awwwwwwwww"-provoking.)

But the tone of "For Keeps" is skittish--genuinely funny and insightful one minute; slapstick, sitcomish and mawkish the next. From the outside, it has the feeling of a movie on which a lot of compromises have been made.

It also has one really lethal character: Ringwald's affected, divorced mother, clinging to her bright, college-bound daughter, insinuating herself as a best friend rather than a mother. Like so much of the film, it's not an impossible premise, but Miriam Flynn has been encouraged to venture so far into the valley of overacting, she makes you cringe. Her character also makes it difficult to see where Ringwald's sunny values, particularly about men and relationships, came from when her mother has been busy poisoning the well at every turn.

After lying to her mother about her traveling companion, budding journalist Darcy Elliot (Ringwald) and her longtime steady, Stan Bobrucz (gangling newcomer Randall Batinkoff), take off for the weekend so she can interview for a spot on the alternative weekly Isthmus. They dally sweetly on the way, camping out romantically and, as it turns out, disastrously. The results are confounding for a girl like Darcy, on the pill since she was 14, and gloatingly received in some quarters at school. "I love it when the smart kids are so dumb," one of her school rivals chortles in the girls' bathroom.

On Stan's side, his father (Kenneth Mars) has pointed him since grade school toward Caltech and an architecture scholarship. These plans take a downward turn with Darcy's pregnancy, especially when she decides to have the baby--in spite of Stan's cheerful suggestion that they "put it up for abortion, uhhhh, adoption ."

From here on, the tone of the picture is schizophrenic. The writers seem to want to deal with real issues--high school advisers who push an "A" student and class leader out of school and into night classes (bad example for the others), and the economics of real life when two meager jobs barely support two young students--but there are too many low-rent sitcom situations. Cunning siblings, feuding, fulminating parents, even a life-threatening episode are part of the trouble; the full-scale break between these kids and their watchful parents is another puzzler. (The movie is rated PG-13.)

Although Ringwald's charisma is intact and radiant, she is too much actress for her co-star Batinkoff. Instead of basking in these young lovers and their steps toward adulthood, you begin to look at Stan and wonder if he is such a good choice, after all. (In actor Batinkoff's defense, perhaps no one could do much with love scenes played while screaming at a closed door, or running alongside a moving car.) Director Avildsen ("Rocky," "Joe") must have a soft spot for such histrionics; in addition to Miriam Flynn, the usually splendid Kenneth Mars has been boosted way up over the top as well.

Credit "For Keeps" with one innovation, however. It's the first time within memory that a high school siren has lured her man with a red Mustang--and a box of Pampers.

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