Dear God (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

At least after seeing this movie, I understand where the title came from -- starting about thirty minutes into this interminable, unfunny feature, I began looking at my watch every few minutes and thinking, "Dear God, is this ever going to end?" A sickeningly bad pastiche of much better pictures -- It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and (believe it or not) Spartacus all leap to mind -- Dear God is the worst excuse for a holiday film since Nora Ephron's hideous Mixed Nuts.

I suppose it's understandable why Greg Kinnear accepted the lead in this film. With Sabrina, he was bitten by the acting bug, so, when the opportunity arose to get not only a part in a major motion picture, but top billing, he grabbed it. Kinnear plays Tom Turner, a small-time L.A. con artist who would rather dupe kind-hearted souls out of hard-earned money than get honest work himself. His life of crime comes to an end, however, when he is arrested and sentenced to hold down a job for one year or face jail time. His employer becomes the U.S. post office, where he's assigned to the "dead letter office" -- the place where unaddressed and unreturnable mail comes to die.

One day, Tom opens a letter addressed to God (there are bins for Elvis, Santa Claus, and the Martians, too), and, through a series of contrivances too dumb to describe, he ends up surrendering his paycheck to a worthy cause. His fellow workers, including a burned-out lawyer (Laurie Metcalf) and a mailman (Tim Conway) who "went postal" and bit a dog, find out about his unintentional good deed, and show interest in helping with the next one. Tom wants no part of playing God, but, eventually, his desire to impress a pretty waitress (Maria Pitillo) gets the better of his cynicism, and he is suckered back into the miracle business.

There's a lot wrong with this film, beginning with its sit-com situations and humor. I have the feeling that anyone who spends endless hours staring at a television screen will be right at home watching Dear God. Even the faces will be familiar, since almost everyone in this movie is better known for small-screen roles. There are cameos by the likes of Tony Danza, Erin Moran, Jack Klugman, and Rue Maclanahan. Of the main actors, only Tim Conway is passably enjoyable. Kinnear isn't very impressive, and Laurie Metcalf is downright bad -- some of her scenes caused me to wince.

Director Garry Marshall, whose last disaster was the ill-advised Exit to Eden, has managed to top that debacle for sheer awfulness. Dear God wavers between sickeningly sweet moralizing ("It's not easy getting off the ground." "Faith isn't arrived at easily.") and moronic comedy. Even Marshall's attempts at parody fall flat. His attempts to skewer the vacuous media coverage of high-profile trials is trite. It has been done before, and much better. Hasn't he heard of To Die For?

Right-wingers who espouse "family values" will probably be delighted by the pap that passes for entertainment in Dear God. Maybe as soon as Bob Dole loses the election, he'll pay a visit to the local multiplex -- this is the kind of movie he can champion. Hopefully, he's in a very small minority, because the last thing we need is a flood of Dear God copycats. It's just too bad dead movies can't be forgotten about and recycled the way dead letters can.

Dear God (United States, 1996)

Director: Garry Marshall
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Laurie Metcalf, Maria Pitillo, Tim Conway, Roscoe Lee Browne, Jen Seda, Hector Elizondo
Screenplay: Warren Leight and Ed Kaplan
Cinematography: Charles Minsky
Music: Jeremy Lubbock
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 1996-11-01
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1