Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:56 - Released 12/12/97

Anyone out there having marital difficulties? Don't get a divorce; don't get counseling — go spend a few months on an Amish farm — it'll cure what ails ya!

Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley star in this charming if shallow farce about a rich New York couple who are forced to try their hands at the simple life. Brad Sexton (Allen) is a sleazy real estate entrepreneur, and Caroline (Alley) is his spoiled wife of ten years, a woman born with money who bitterly regrets choosing marriage to Brad over a career in fashion design. They are on the verge of divorce when they find that they have been had by their accountant (Wayne Knight), who has embezzled huge amounts of cash and skipped town. Suddenly penniless and with all their accounts frozen, they find themselves on the run from a gun-happy IRS commando (Larry Miller) and his more conventional sidekick (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.).

After driving all night, they end up in a rural Pennsylvania town with nothing but horse-drawn buggies as far as the eye can see. Brad overhears at the general store that one man's cousin, who was supposed to visit for planting season, will be a month late. So he decides the perfect way to dodge their pursuers is to adopt this cousin's identity until they can work things out with their attorney. They arrive at the farm of (who else!) Sam Yoder (Jay O. Sanders), and are quickly taken in by Sam and his wife Levinia (Megan Cavanaugh). The Yoders are a little taken aback by their cousins' ill-fitting clothes and unconventional manner, but they have little trouble being hospitable, as the Amish are wont to do.

Things seem to be running relatively smoothly for the Sextons at first: the bed's a little small, and there's no indoor plumbing, but these people are nice and it's better than sleeping on the ground. This changes promptly at 4:30 the next morning, when they are awakened by an axe-wielding grandfather and put to work on the farm. What follows is a hilarious period of adjustment for the Sextons and the Yoders, during which the two families grow closer and closer together, while Brad and Caroline come to rediscover what they liked about each other in the first place.

This movie probably appeals more to people like us, who live near an Amish community, than folks who've only seen them in movies like Witness. It's kind of a comfortable feeling knowing that we can probably get the jokes better than people in, say, L.A. Of course it helps that this very newspaper has published two different front-page photos featuring our own local Sam Yoder! And the scenery in the movie is so familiar, you'd think it was shot right here in Garrett County.

The script is predictably silly, but there is a lot of heart to the story. Allen and Alley seem to actually connect better during the scenes on the farm than in N.Y.C., not only in the story, but as actors. Maybe it's the fresh air. The scenes in New York are really much less engaging, because they mainly involve a silly chase involving some rather two-dimensional characters. Although Knight has done some stretching before, as in Jurassic Park, this is mostly his patented "neurotic wimp"; a slightly-less overblown version of his Newman character on Seinfeld. Miller's character is a ridiculous caricature of Clint Eastwood, and Nunez's is a throwaway, included only to counterbalance Miller's.

Director Bryan Spicer and writers Jana Howington and Steve LuKanic have seemingly infused the farm sections with more life, more character, to evoke the feeling that the country life is better, realer than that in urban areas. The Sextons in the last scene are virtually unrecognizable as their former selves, and Allen's and Alley's deliveries are more natural, more plausible.

I want to recommend this movie to all my friends in the local Amish community, but I guess it's not gonna happen. ***½

Copyright 1997 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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