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JUST WRITING about this movie puts me to sleep.

And really, that's all you need to know about it.

How I wish those two sentences could stand as my review. (What was the famous music critic's line? "Sleep is a perfectly valid form of criticism." Now, there's a review for you.) But I know it cannot. Somebody has to hold forth on Lawrence Kasdan's latest film. And hold forth I intend to.

So here we go.

"Mumford" is a nice, gentle little film that lulled me into a nice, gentle little doze on and off during its roughly 100 minutes.

And this was after getting a full 8 1/2 hours the night before, so we're not talking about sleep deprivation having interfered with the viewing of a potential Oscar-winner here.

What we are talking about, it seems, is Kasdan having gotten his hands on yet another good, maybe even great, film concept (young shrink comes to a small town, helps its denizens work through their problems and then is found to have the biggest secret of anyone) and blowing it.

It's not that Kasdan hasn't done this before. He has. (See: "Grand Canyon," "Wyatt Earp.")

It's that Kasdan has churned out such memorable, generation-defining work all along (See: "Body Heat," "The Big Chill," "Silverado," "The Accidental Tourist," "I Love You to Death"), and done it with such grace and seeming ease that it's only natural to expect it when he comes out with something new.

And to be sad, confused and a little bit irked when it flops.

Dr. Mumford (Loren Dean) has a talent for listening. After just four months, he has everyone in the town of Mumford -- just a coincidence, he assures them -- coming to his office to lie on his couch and fill his ear with an array of sexual fantasies, family dysfunctions and emotional crises.

He is attentive, but he doesn't pamper and he won't coddle. If anything, it's often his frankness and lack of tact that snaps his patients out of their self-absorbed prattling and moves them toward getting unstuck from their issues.

"We have to stop now," he says, in finest shrink-speak, halfway through one session.

But don't I have another 20 minutes? asks the startled patient.

"Yes," says Mumford calmly, "but I just can't stomach listening to any more of this."

His roster shortly becomes full: a lovely young chronic-fatigue sufferer (Hope Davis); an eccentric young billionaire who can't talk to women (Jason Lee); a lonely shopaholic housewife (Mary McDonell); her selfish workaholic husband (Ted Danson); a shy and chubby pharmacist with a fantasy life that completely excludes himself (Pruitt Taylor Vince).

For comfort and amusement, Mumford talks to his downstairs neighbor, Lily (Alfre Woodard), who runs the town's cafe. He hikes at night. And he listens. Everywhere he goes, he listens.

Slowly, people get better.

And then the roof caves in on Mumford -- the town and the doctor -- when it's discovered in a rather cheesy fashion (hint: You will have to endure several minutes of Robert Stack appearing as himself in "Unsolved Mysteries") that the good shrink isn't really who he appears to be.

But, as it turns out, no one really cares, because they're so happy with the people they've helped themselves become.

The end.

As we said: a nice, gentle little film, with a great concept and some genuinely funny moments -- especially if you've ever spent time on a couch or treated those who lay outstretched on one before you.

But it's not particularly a great film, which is a bit sad, because "Mumford" is, at its core, a film about perhaps the greatest gift one human can extend to another -- the gift of time spent simply, intently listening.

But a host of flaws -- weak character development, thin plot, trite writing, predictable conflicts and an easy-out ending that is reminiscent of so many films that it would take up the rest of this space to list them all -- render it merely pretty instead of piercing, and sweet instead of savvy.

But a dandy way to catch a little shut-eye.


Rating: ** 1/2

A young psychologist moves to a small town and helps people who ultimately discover he has has the biggest secret of all. With Alfre Woodard, above.

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan.

Rated R for sexual inuendo, nudity, profanity and adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

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