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LOOKING BACK
POOR WRITING LEAVES 'THESE OLD BROADS' WITH NOTHING BUT NICE LEGS

About 20 minutes into the ABC movie, "These Old Broads" (9 tonight, Channel 7), Piper Grayson (Debbie Reynolds) tells Beryl Mason (Elizabeth Taylor) that she forgave her a long time ago for stealing someone named Freddie away from her.

The old actresses are obviously enjoying the inside joke that was written by Reynolds' daughter, Carrie Fisher. After all, Reynolds' real-life husband (and Carrie's father), the late Eddie Fisher, left her for Taylor in one of Hollywood's most celebrated scandals 40 years ago.

The long scene in which Reynolds and Taylor bond and play with their images may be the sole reason for watching a broad and often boring two-hour Hollywood farce written by Carrie Fisher and Elaine Pope of "Seinfeld."

It's as if Carrie Fisher ("Postcards From the Edge") wrote something personal as therapy and then decided that the whole world should suffer, too.

But it also makes you wonder if Carrie Fisher's script contains other less known Hollywood inside jokes about co-stars Joan Collins and ShirleyMacLaine, or if they are just pleased to be part of something that pokes fun at their images.

Here's the setup of a movie that was originally written to be a feature film: Kate Westburn (MacLaine), Addie Holden (Collins) and Grayson (Reynolds) were three stars of Hollywood's golden age of musicals and now are being reunited because their famous musical film, "Boy Crazy," has become a huge hit in rerelease.

Westburn's son (Jonathan Silverman of "The Single Guy"), is a producer of documentary films who convinces a young television executive (Nester Carbonelli of "Suddenly Susan") to make a reunion special.

There is one problem: The three stars hate each other, partly because they are so competitive and all slept with the "Boy Crazy" director. The son goes to agent Beryl Mason in the hope that she can convince the trio to put aside their differences for the good of the special and a decent payday.

The women all have their images to keep up. Kate believes in the afterlife, just like MacLaine. Grayson is a goody-goody just like Reynolds, though we discover she has had her surprising R-rated moments. Holden has set an unofficial Hollywood record for face-lifts, which is the perception following Collins around even if she's denied it. And Mason (Taylor, who is sitting down for most of her scenes) dallies with drugs and gets sick a lot.

Joining these old broads in the shenanigans are old bulls Peter Graves, Pat Harrington and Gene Barry. Graves plays Grayson's husband, Harrington is Holden's mobster boyfriend and Barry is the TV studio head financing the whole thing.

The script is loaded with sophomoric sexual jokes and references, which apparently are there to remind us that these old broads had vital sex lives when they were young and they aren't dead yet.

The young male actors are the ones who suffer most, with Carbonelli having a cliched role as a rude executive and Silverman trying hard to overcome a script that makes him act 10 years younger than he really is.

Still, there are some broad comedic scenes, one dealing with death and another a catastrophic dance scene that almost kills the reunion. And there are a few plot elements thrown into the mix for no apparent reason, including the homosexuality of one character.

Is there hidden meaning in any of this besides the Reynolds-Taylor confessional? Beats me. In the end, we get to see MacLaine, Collins and Reynolds chew the scenery and show their legs (which look great, by the way) and dance.

But there really is no dancing around it. "These Old Broads" is so painful to watch that you pity the poor ABC executive who commissioned it.

Rating: 1 1/2 stars out of 4

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