You know you’re in for it the moment you see Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer, in all their crisp, spangly glamour, pretending to be homespun middle American farmwives. You really know you’re in for it when Jason Robards, as their aging salt-of-the-earth father, divides up his land among his three daughters, whereupon it becomes clear that A Thousand Acres (Touchstone) would like to be King Lear in the cornfields.
Then you find out what it is, exactly, you’re in for. Robards’ plowshares monarch isn’t just some quaintly bellowing, misguided old coot — he’s Mr. Sins of the Patriarchy, a drunken, bile-spewing monster who slept with two of his daughters when they were teenagers. Based on Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Thousand Acres is no Lear, but it certainly makes you want to howl. The film’s emotional structure, which asks us to see Lange and Pfeiffer caught in a complex storm of sympathy and rage, is undercut at every turn by Robards’ odious, one-dimensional SOB. Tepid and meandering, with a tangle of ”issues” that includes miscarriage, breast cancer, and spousal abuse (as if incest weren’t enough!), A Thousand Acres plays like five masochistic Lifetime-channel movies that have been mashed together until they have all the flavor of strained peas. F