Better Living Review

Nora (Olympia Dukakis) is bonkers enough to jackhammer tunnels beneath her suburban home while her three adults daughters (Deborah Hedwall Catherine Corpeny and Wendy Hoopes) are only marginally more stable. Then patriarch Tom (Roy Scheider) shows up after a 15-year absence with wild ideas about fortifying the homestead against attacks from the world’s unfortunate. Who will triumph in the resulting battle for family domination?

Dukakis (“Moonstruck”) is always a joy to see digging into a role as idiosyncratic as this one but even she starts to look a little foolish as the storyline grows increasingly ridiculous in the second half. The other members of the ensemble suffer more grievously from the uneven script though Hedwell (NBCs “Law and Order”) gets in some good licks as a hard-bitten public defender prone to shouting her opinions. Veteran character actor Edward Herrmann (“Richie Rich”) gives delightful deadpan as Nora’s morose priest brother.

Adapted from George F. Walker’s stage play Max Mayer’s well-meaning debut feature generates some amusingly unpredictable moments early on. But things go horribly wrong when Tom arrives with his scheme to remake the family as a disciplined home-defense unit. The idea of the characters building a barricade around their house isn’t believable for a second – worse it isn’t funny. Inhabiting an uncomfortable area between drama and black comedy the piece disintegrates into a series of embarrassingly ineffective episodes.