Robert Altman’s latest, “Dr. T and the Women” recently opened the 2000 Chicago International Film Festival, with star Richard Gere also receiving the festival’s Career Achievement Award. At the attendant gala dinner honoring Gere, master of ceremonies Bill Kurtis twice called the film in question “Mr. T and the Women,” and while the concept of an Altman production starring the onetime “A-Team” star boggles the mind in its sheer awfulness, it would have at least made for fascinating viewing, something which can hardly be said for the painfully bland picture which Altman did make.
Gere plays the titular doc, a Dallas gynecologist whose life is dominated by women, from his upper-crust patients to his wife (Farrah Fawcett, whose character suffers a nervous breakdown early on), their daughters (Kate Hudson and Tara Reid, the former an aspiring Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and bride-to-be) and his tipsy divorcee sister-in-law (Laura Dern). With so many women pulling him in opposite directions, it’s no surprise that when Dr. T finally meets someone who’s seemingly sane and grounded, a golf pro played by Helen Hunt, he falls head over heels.
Altman lampoons the Dallas social elite with the same precision and bite he brought to the Music City scene a quarter century earlier in his masterpiece “Nashville”. And therein lies much of “Dr. T and the Women”‘s problem. It’s so typical of Altman’s trademark style that it verges on self-parody, from the manically overlapping dialogue which distinguishes the zoo-like atmosphere of the doctor’s waiting room to the natural disaster which brings the film to its hyperbolic close. Worse, the misogyny which has underlined so much of Altman’s work again rears its head here. With the exception of Hunt as love interest, all of the female characters lack any kind of realistic definition, serving as little more than window dressing.
“Dr. T and the Women” is hardly a complete failure. The performances are uniformly solid (in particular, onetime Late Night with Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter has a few memorable comedic moments) but its workman-like approach is fatal. The movie’s ultimately little more than the work of an old master putting himself through the paces: all craft and no passion. Talk about a bitter irony — a film about a gynecologist that is itself completely sterile