Chlumsky has appeal, but 'My Girl 2' has none

February 11, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"My Girl 2"

Starring Anna Chlumsky and Austin O'Brien

Directed by Howard Zieff

Released by Columbia

PG-rated

... **

A cynic has said that the secret to life is sincerity, and once you learn to fake that everything is easy. The problem with "My Girl 2" is it can't even fake sincerity.

A sequel to the first film, in which Macauley Culkin A) got kissed and B) got killed, it returns the appealing Anna Chlumsky as Vada Sultenfuss, small-town teen-age girl with an open heart, bright eyes, a passionate if slightly callow mind, and enough decency to caulk the hull of the Arizona. Chlumsky is very good: too bad the movie couldn't find something interesting for her to do.

It pauses to re-invoke her cheerful undertaker father (Dan Aykroyd) and now pregnant stepmother (Jamie Lee Curtis), then swiftly abandons them, and for good reason -- they weren't that interesting to begin with. Soon enough, Vada is heading toward L.A. The reason for this quest is Vada's sudden need to know more about her deceased mother, whom her father barely remembers.

The director, Howard Zieff, does nothing to re-create in a meaningful fashion the mind of a young woman on the verge of womanhood, or the culture of teen-agers in the early '70s, which are themselves only haphazardly invoked. But think how directors have caught the magic of youth: Spielberg, in particular, has almost eerie empathetic gifts for the sensations and discoveries of a youngster; Truffaut had a similar knack (remember "The 400 Blows.") All this is miles beyond poor Zieff.

The whole movie feels completely perfunctory. Vada finds herself staying with an uncle (played by amiable Richard Masur, always a sly treat) who is living with his girlfriend Rose (Christine Ebersole) above an auto repair garage. Vada is scandalized -- it's 1974 after all. Her shock lasts for at least seven, possibly as long as even eight, seconds.

Soon, she and Rose's son Nick (Austin O'Brien) are hunting for traces of mom, which they find with a kind of dreary inevitability. But the movie is so polite and emotionally rigid, one never feels any real danger that her discoveries about her mother will be shattering, just as one never doubts that those discoveries will be forthcoming without of lot of effort.

Zieff, as it turns out, is entirely too coarse a director to evoke the subtleties that may or may not have lain within the script; he seems to think he's doing sitcom and goes for cheap humor in zany ex-hippies or goofball cops and the like.

Chlumsky, as I have said, is appealing; O'Brien seems dazed from the failure of "The Last Action Hero," which he thought would make him a star and instead made him a trivia answer. Aykroyd is phony as usual and Curtis is virtually invisible.

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