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Keaton Makes Cable Baby Film Worth It

The life of a driven, single New York career woman changes after she’s unexpectedly saddled with a kid. . . .

Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom”? No, Diane Keaton in “Northern Lights,” tonight’s new Disney Channel movie.

The premise--life-weary adults find redemption through an innocent child--is oh-so-familiar, but there’s offbeat pleasure in the execution, due mostly to performances by Keaton and her standout co-star, Maury Chaykin (“Unstrung Heroes”).

There’s no suspense here. You know from the start, as Roberta (Keaton) and Ben (Chaykin) attend brother Frank’s funeral in a small Vermont town, that the friendly eccentrics they meet--a rat-faced bellhop, a courtly hotel host, an ancient sailor--and the sweet child himself (Joseph Cross) will change the pair’s lives.

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There’s fun to be had here, however. Keaton eschews all vanity in a nasty-funny portrayal as the chain-smoking, neurotic urbanite who’s left guardianship of a hitherto unknown 9-year-old nephew at the death of her estranged brother. Even her look--platinum, geometrically cut short hair, squinty dark glasses under heavy bangs, lethally long nails--is abrasive. She’s a hoot as she comes apart at the seams.

As Ben, the brother’s college friend and the other unwilling guardian, Chaykin is just the opposite: A small-town, divorced grocer, his kids away at college, he’s lonely, diffident and joyless. Chaykin’s quiet subtleties in the role, nicely observed by director Linda Yellen, are the film’s most keen pleasures.

Written by John Hoffman and Kevin Kane, the film is based on Hoffman’s one-man stage play, in which he portrayed each character. Here he’s seen as a gentle man with a speech impediment.

* “Northern Lights” airs tonight at 7 and 10:10 on the Disney Channel. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be inappropriate for young children).

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