Weekend Entertainment Guide

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MOVIES . . . FATHER'S DAY: Producer-director Ivan Reitman's film never develops into much more than a situation, notes TIME's Richard Schickel, a situation with the sole rationale of placing smooth, sardonic Billy Crystal, playing a successful lawyer named Jack Lawrence, in close, impatient proximity to Robin Williams, playing a failed playwright-poet named Dale Putley. "You know from the outset that their quest will quickly become a shared one, that the hip careerist and the careerless former hippy will bicker and ultimately bond. You can’t say the script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel makes the most of this contrast -- too many side trips into bathroom humor -- but it does feed the stars enough decent patter to keep them ticking in their disparate ways." Reitman does provide two nice casting surprises: the formerly hot Nastassja Kinski as the sweetly scheming mom and Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, crisped up with a chicness Elaine can only dream about, as Crystal’s sharply skeptical wife. Still, says Sheppard, "One can’t quite escape the feeling that no one involved in Fathers’ Day (which is yet another Americanized version of a French farce) is quite working to full capacity. As long as they’re borrowing from offshore sources, why not this old, curiously appropriate title: Memoirs of Underdevelopment." BOOKS . . . ECHO HOUSE: Ward Just's new novel (Houghton Mifflin; 328 pages; $25) returns to his familiar territory of the nation's capitol in a story that spans nearly the entire 20th century and sees the Federal District emerge from drowsy Southern town into frenetic center of world power. "Just, a Washington journalist in the early ’60s, writes from experience," says TIME's R.Z. Sheppard. "But there is no master clef to this roman. Protagonist Axel Behl reads like a composite rather than a copy. He has spent more than half his years in chronic pain caused by wounds suffered during World War II. His marriage to Sylvia, a wellborn New Yorker and poet, was a mismatch. Her parting shot before leaving is that Axel, former OSS operative and friend of Presidents, has 'too many secrets, not enough mystery.' Ironically, what sets Echo House apart from the hyperrealities of the usual Washington novel is precisely its air of ineffability," notes Sheppard. "A novel with this much grievous personal history needs comic relief. Just obliges with Mrs. Pfister, fortune-teller to the Washington elite, whose sessions are bugged by government agents, and the 'Venerables,' a pair of aged columnists who 'had been out of step with every administration since Eisenhower's.' These geezers and other faded Washingtonians in 'Echo House' are more than welcomed. Just is a sharp-eyed observer and acerbic commentator, but he is also a bighearted host to all the has-beens and will-bes gathered in this roomy and inviting novel."