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‘Dear God’ Needs Divine Intervention

Chris Hewitt St. Paul Pioneer Press

Ben Franklin pretty much invented the U.S. postal service and, probably, a fair amount of the tired jokes in the postal comedy, “Dear God.”

Greg Kinnear plays a character known only to the movies: the hardened criminal with chiseled looks and the heart of a softie (if you’ve ever been to the movies, you know he will have a sad story about his childhood to explain why he became a hardened criminal). In “Dear God,” he’s assigned to do community service at the post office’s Dead Letter Office. He and his generic co-workers (the one who’s really quiet, the one who’s crabby, the one who’s deaf - these are the jokes, folks) cook up a plan to do favors for people who write letters to God.

You’re probably thinking it’s a sentimental/ funny premise in the Frank Capra mold, but “Dear God” doesn’t deserve to load the film in Capra’s camera.

The cast, assembled from sitcoms that TV viewers rejected long ago (Tim Conway, Rue McClanahan, Ellen Cleghorne), can’t be expected to do much with these underwritten roles, but it is a surprise that veteran director Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman,” “Frankie and Johnny”) couldn’t goose up the movie’s sluggish pace.

Kinnear has a disarming, wry manner. Although he’s only been in two movies and they both stink (“Sabrina” is the other), he may well be a movie star. And Laurie Metcalf (Jackie on “Roseanne”) is always worth watching - here, she gives an odd, tic-filled performance as a social glob who is a Kinnear colleague (the one who’s a nerd).

Throughout “Dear God,” there are wild shifts in tone. Is it an “Airplane”-like parody of TV news? A sloppy romance? A sentimental fable? A raucous farce? Even if you watch the whole thing, you’ll never find out.

xxxx “Dear God” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat Credits: Directed by Garry Marshall, starring Greg Kinnear, Laurie Metcalf,2 Maria Pitillo, Tim Conway, Hector Elizondo, Jon Seda, Roscoe Lee Browne, Anna Maria Horsford, Kathleen Marshall Running time: 1:50 Rating: PG

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