Four Friends

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FOUR FRIENDS—-well-intended 1981 misfire about coming-of-age in the USA during the upheaval of the 1960s. Crisscrossing paths during the decade are four bosom buddies from high school, one of them a space-cadet lass who figures as love interest for the three guys, obsessively so for the hero.

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A good premise, but mostly thrown out the window in all the important areas. Craig Wasson, as the hero, effectively suggests some of his characters torments and tensions–numerous enough to tax a saint–but the script allows him little room for much beyond reaction.

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Jodi Thelen, as the free-spirit/earth mother/flower child/catalyst is absolutely unbearable, shrilling her role over in such a way as to make it impossible to conceive of anyone harboring anything towards her other than a grudge. Jim Metzler and Michael Huddleston, as the other two pals, are almost as bad, just not as loud.

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Bring on the tear gas

Steve Tesich jumbles his screenplay together so that every kind of 60s trip you could dedicate a bong hit to confronts the quartet: acid trips, race hassles, upsetting the Establishment, freedom rides, the war, hippies, flag burning, decadent wealth, free love, everything but Laugh-In, all presented in vignettes that director Arthur Penn sledgehammers across like they were the last messages he’d ever get a chance to deliver.

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Reed Birney scores some points in a hackneyed role as a rich college acquaintance of the hero, and James Leo Herlihy does a good job as Birney’s father, depraved WASP despoiler par excellence, a knee-jerk vision of reality from the word go, but a decent acting turn. There are some tart one-liners scattered around, but those bits are swallowed by the sprawling narrative jumpiness and the tone-deaf obviousness of the whole, so it ends up coming off like one of today’s 9th-graders ideas of what ‘surviving the Sixties’ was all about. Bummer.  115 minutes, with Miklos Simon, Julia Murray, Lois Smith and Elizabeth Lawrence.  The movie has its defenders, but I guess it’s clear that I’m not among them.

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