In "Dr. T and the Women," Richard Gere is living a nightmare, and for the most part, so is the audience. Gere bounces around from mundane situation to mundane situation without direction as time ambles by in auteur director Robert Altman's latest film.
Gere plays Dr. Sully Travis, known to all as merely Dr. T, Dallas' most popular gynecologist among the social elite. He golfs his spare time away, and he's as adept with a rifle as a pair of forceps. He hangs out with his token gang of guys, but his life revolves around women, whom he attracts at an alarming rate.
Eccentric women dominate Dr. T's life. His wife (Farrah Fawcett) snaps while shopping and regresses into a childlike, confused state (a real departure for Fawcett). One daughter (Kate Hudson), a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, is about to be married, and the other, (Tara Reid, "American Pie"), is obsessed with JFK's assassination.
His alcoholic sister-in-law (Laura Dern) has just moved in with him, dragging along her three little girls. The clan wears so much fur that they seem like benign Cruella De Villes.
Dr. T's full attention is soon won by Bree (Helen Hunt), the new golf pro at his country club, who seems as slyly witty and laid-back as, well, Helen Hunt.
It's no wonder Dr. T is so taken with her - she's the one grounded, practical woman in a film allegedly about women. Everyone else is a caricature of absurdity, each allotted her one exaggerated quality that represents who she is and what she needs.
This awkward, basic generalization of women could be interpreted as misogynistic, or simply Altman's slightly shallow attempt to prove how, as Dr. T proposes, "Every woman is special in her own way." But does special have to mean over-the-top?
It's a strange miscalculation for Altman, who made such socially revealing films as "Nashville" and "Short Cuts." Here his characterization is doused by syrupy conventions. He caters to too many tastes, for the film is equal parts romantic comedy, aborted social satire and gender expose.
As Altman fires in all directions, "Dr. T" feels aimless. Inevitably, things spiral out of Dr. T's control in near-Biblical proportions, but little weight or suspense is attached to any of the events.
Gere and the audience meander through Altman's gallery of strange socialites. Call it "Midnight in the Garden of Gynecology and Absurdity."
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