In the four months since he arrived in the small, scenic town of Mumford, an enigmatic psychologist whose name happens to be Dr. Mumford (Loren Dean) has acquired more patients than the other two local shrinks combined. So what’s his secret?

A naturally empathic listener unafraid to tell patients what he really thinks instead of what they want to hear (who even casually dismisses potential clients he doesn’t like), Dr. Mumford quickly gains a reputation for being frank, level-headed and painfully honest. In a by-the-numbers mainstream comedy like Mumford, this can only mean only one thing. He’s a fake.

Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Grand Canyon) has a few things going for him here: a nice low-key style; actors who can fill in sketchy characters with their individual charm; a premise with immense potential, and beautiful California wine country locales. But Kasdan has loaded down the narrative with too many details that lead nowhere, particularly a dubious backstory that chronicles the evolution of a lost soul into the keeper of Mumford’s collective anxieties. It doesn’t help that the lead actor isn’t just a cipher, but a truly blank slate.

Dr. Mumford has some colorful patients with deep-seated problems, but the film never looks beyond their surface symptoms. Repeatedly, Kasdan seems about to explore the connection between the bevy of late-20th century mind-body ailments to social and economic factors, but inexplicably backs off. Throughout Mumford, Kasdan studiously avoids exposing any real pain, and even skirts the film’s central issue: the psychological damage done when trust is placed in the wrong hands.

Instead, two of Dr. Mumford’s patients – a socially isolated technogeek (former pro skateboarder Jason Lee) whose modem company has become his hometown’s principal employer, and an overachiever (Hope Davis) who develops chronic fatigue syndrome after a messy divorce – are miraculously cured by finding a new mate (the good doctor courts the latter under the guise of therapy).

Lawrence Kasdan’s facile suggestion that love is actually a magic cure-all elixir is as shallow and desperately eager-to-please as Mumford itself.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].

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