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Wiseracks undermine a Neil Simon Broadway adaptation; Chapter Two Starring James Caan, Marsha Mason. Written by Neil Simon. Directed by Robert Moore.

This is another movie adaptation, taken from the Broadway play of the same title. Unfortunately, the transition has not gone so well here. The protagonist is a successful writer whose wife has recently died, causing him great distress. He falls in love with an actress, marries her after a quick courtship, and thereafter comes to terms with his memories, his grief, and his need for a new and positive life.

The story closely parallels Simon's own life -- indeed, the actress is played by Marsha Mason, who became Simon's real-life spouse after the death of his first wife. These considerations lend extra resonance to the plot and characters.

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Yet Simon's great strength as a playwright -- his facility with quick jokes and one- As in the intermittently serious "California Suite," the incessant wisecracks get in the way of the serious material, until the Angst and the quips cancel each other out. Strong performances by Mason, James Caan, Joseph Bologna , and others help to compensate for this. But it's enough -- especially when the plot flies into complete absurdity, as when two secondary characters try to have an extramarital fling.

On the Broadway stage, where "Chapter two" was staged with cinematic smoothness by Herbert Ross, the show had more tragicomic weight than it does on screen. The director of the movie, Robert Moore, might have used the resources of the camera to bring the characters' dilemmas even more vividly to life. But it hasn't happened. "Chapter Two" is a flat and disappointing movie. liners -- can also be his most annoying habit.


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