In "Modern Love" (at the Egyptian, Hollywood), star-writer-director-songwriter Robby Benson is trying for a problem comedy on marriage and fatherhood: part goofball-surreal, part tender-humane, with influences that skitter all the way from John Hughes to Woody Allen, Albert Brooks and Jerry Lewis.
The movie, about the troubled relationship of a South Carolina PR flack (Benson) and a urologist who does stand-up comedy (Karla DeVito) is often pretty bad. It has terrible sound and music--and it keeps shifting keys all over the place. Tastelessly overdrawn low-comedy--Benson is very high on sex-organ gags--alternates with bald attempts to twang heart-strings. Lingering death scenes clash with wild-party routines crammed with Southern-fried bimbos and brain-shy beach bums.
There are rap group gags and Ku Klux Klan gags and catheter gags. Old friend Burt Reynolds pops up in an extended cameo as Greg's father-in-law, and it's a star turn without any star opportunities--though, for maybe the first time in Reynolds' career, he gets to kiss the leading man. Occasionally a scene jells, but overall, as a writer, Benson lacks balance. Early on, he sets himself up as a lover who's always being betrayed, then drops the leitmotif in his crucial relationship. It's not the movie's only dropped seed.
As a director, Benson has something: a quiet steady camera and a taste for slow-ripening, paranoid comedy. The best scenes in this movie usually involve either nightmare fantasies or scenes between Benson and a child or baby. An ultimate rural romantic, he's always had an attractively wide-eyed, ecstatic delivery--and, like Jerry Lewis, he's at his best with kids.
"Modern Love" (rated R, for sex and language) can't be recommended on any rational level--but director Benson should probably cast actor Benson in another movie. And they should put writer Benson on a leash, at least until he takes the pledge against any more urology or "weenie" gags.