By Owen Gleiberman
Updated November 15, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

Twenty years ago, Bill Murray, with his unctuous showbiz insincerity (an insincerity so brazen it came to seem an ironic form of sincerity), invented a new brand of modern wise guy: the counterculture put-on artist gone Vegas. A generation of comics have mimicked his raised eyebrow, his giddily sarcastic lounge-lizard smarm, and it’s no coincidence that many of them, like Dennis Miller and David Letterman, have hosted talk shows. (In the ’90s, the late-night chatfest is ironic Vegas.) But few have incorporated Murray’s mannerisms with quite the telegenic no-sweat ease of Greg Kinnear.

When he first came into view as host of the E! network’s Talk Soup, Kinnear was like Murray without the sleaze. His wicked-imp grins and exquisitely timed mocking pauses (he could make a blank gaze of how-low-will-they-go horror speak a thousand words) seemed to rebound right off his smoothly boyish good looks. (By contrast, ravaged-skinned assassins like Murray and Miller wear their angst on their foreheads.) Kinnear, too, is a natural talk-show host — on Later, his patter has a cocky verve — and, as he proved in Sabrina, he may even have what it takes to be a movie star. But not if he’s dumb enough to keep appearing in pictures like Dear God.

A toxic pile of feel-good treacle, the movie casts Kinnear as a small-time con artist who learns to become a nice, fuzzy-wuzzy person. Sentenced by a judge to spend a year’s employment in the post office’s dead-letter department, which fields all mail addressed to Elvis, Santa, and God, he rallies his fellow employees to go out and make the correspondents’ dreams come true. How cutesy-annoying is Kinnear’s crew? One of them, played by a white-haired Tim Conway, is an old mailman who lost his beat because — yes — he bit a dog. If there’s any sight this year I want to forget, it’s that of Greg Kinnear getting moist with sincerity in what should have been a 1978 TV movie starring John Ritter. F