By Lawrence O'Toole
Updated July 28, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

In a decrepit Broadway theater, appropriately enough, a clutch of actors stages a rehearsal of Uncle Vanya — in which tedium, inertia, and drinking eat away at the lives of residents on a Russian estate. Louis Malle’s direction of Vanya on 42nd Street is fluid and probing, with a generous use of close-ups well suited to video’s intimacy. Aided by David Mamet’s translation of the play, Malle sets up an easy naturalism (though Wallace Shawn is mannered and clownish as the despairing Vanya). Sadly, Malle can’t maintain the conversational tone, and the movie soon begins to resemble a conventionally filmed play. C+