Dir: Linda Yellen. USA 2000. 106mins

The cast members in this uneven ensemble comedy might as well be in different pictures; in fact, it's a pity they're not since the film starring Lynn Redgrave is worth watching, while the one featuring William Hurt and Samantha Mathis is not. Given that the latter two performers are playing ghosts, it would not be too far wrong to say that the film comes to a dead stop whenever they appear. Then there is the matter of the title: The Simian Line has nothing whatsoever to do with monkeys; it is a term used in palmistry to denote a single line which traverses a person's entire palm, supposedly indicating that the individual's heart and mind are hopelessly intertwined. While there is no law specifying that a title must reflect a film's content or genre, it's probably a wise policy to follow when trying to position a mildly quirky romantic comedy in the midst of a busy US holiday season (the film has been sitting on a shelf, collecting dust, for a while).

Set in New Jersey, with a dazzling view of Manhattan in the background, the story concerns four couples, one fortune teller and a prediction of amorous discord which threatens to upend all the relationships. The twosomes include successful real estate agent Katharine (Redgrave) and her much younger, artist lover Rick (Connick, Jr), who are hosting a dinner party for their materialistic but likeable new neighbours Sandra (Crawford) and Paul (Sheridan) and Katharine's young tenants, rock 'n' roll singer Billy (Bruno) and his girlfriend Marta (Keena). Finally, there is a pair of ghosts: Katharine's very proper grandfather Edward (Hurt) and a boisterous 1920's flapper named Mae (Mathis), who is crashing in Edward's room uninvited while her home - the one occupied by Paul and Sandra - is undergoing renovations.

No one can see or hear the apparitions except Arnita (Daly), a local psychic invited to the party to provide entertainment, who is not taken seriously until she predicts that one of the assembled couples will separate before the new year. Six normally rational people suddenly begin to see cracks in their previously perfect relationships.

While the addition of the ghosts as the fourth couple adds a cute twist to the story, the concept is not matched by the performances. Both Hurt and Mathis are dreadful in their parts, which seem completely improvised (in fact, so much of the overall dialogue was ad-libbed by the actors that director Yellen and her writing partner Michael Leeds credited the script to a pseudonym, Gisela Bernice). Mathis tries to create a character; with proper dialogue she might have stood a chance. As for Hurt, it's difficult to say which is more languid, his accent or his performance.

Redgrave, on the other hand, is marvellous as an accomplished, glamorous woman whose confidence begins to crumble when she imagines her young lover's interest waning. She seems to age before our eyes and the change is as much the result of her fierce performance as it is of make-up and unflattering lighting. While no one tops Redgrave, Crawford deserves special mention for the nice, relaxed job she does. Her acting career has been in limbo since her disastrous first film (Fair Game) six years ago. Her performance here finally erases that stinker.

Prod co: SL Productions
US dist: Gabriel Film Group
Int'l sales: Saban Pictures International
Exec prod: Montel Williams, Daniel Bennett, Michael Escott
Prods: Linda Yellen, Robert Renfield
Scr: Gisela Bernice, based on a story by Yellen and Renfield
Cinematography: David Bridges
Prod des: Henry Dunn
Ed: Bob Jorissen
Music: Patrick Seymour
Main cast: Lynn Redgrave, Harry Connick, Jr, Cindy Crawford, Tyne Daly, William Hurt, Jamey Sheridan, Samatha Mathis