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Table for Five
Back in the early 80s, one of the most popular movie trends was the oh-so-topical issue of divorce. Kramer vs. Kramer was, of course, the formula that many movies tried to emulate, and Table for Five was just one of the more shallow ones.
Produced by leading man Jon Voight, Table for Five tells the tale of an estranged father who, after five years of casual neglect, pops up and decides that he wants to take his three children on a fancy vacation via cruise ship. Voight's J.P. Tannen is clearly a decent, if entirely self-centered and fairly irresponsible, guy who seems to sincerely want a "new start" with his kids. His ex-wife Kathleen (Millie Perkins) and her second husband, Mitchell (Richard Crenna), are more than a little skeptical about the plan (clearly they know more about J.P.'s reputation than we do), but they allow the vacation to go full steam ahead.
Once aboard the massive cruise liner, J.P. slowly begins to understand how difficult it is to be a parent - and also that he just might not be cut out for the job. He truly loves these kids, but that doesn't necessarily make for a flawless father figure. Things come crashing down after J.P. receives a static-laden phone call from Mitchell: Kathleen has just been killed in an automobile accident, and Mitchell is now waiting at the next port to bring the children back home.
But will J.P. allow that to happen?
Written by the then-hot property David Seltzer (The Omen), Table for Five suffers from too many soft edges and a resolution that wouldn't ring true in even the most generic of soap opera affairs. The character of Mitchell (as played quite excellently by Mr. Crenna) is nothing but a decent, loyal, and sincere chap ... and yet we're supposed to root for the previously infantile / suddenly responsible J.P. - just because he's the kids' "natural" father and the main character in a paper-thin social drama that implies "biological" equals "better."
Even the most disinterested viewer will quickly believe that the kids are considerably better off with Mitchell. This is a man who, only five days removed from the death of his wife, travels halfway around the globe to retrieve his adopted children - only to allow J.P. to cart the kids through three more ports of call, just because J.P. has magically grown a fondness for being a Dad. Frankly, not much it rings true. Voight, as per usual, yanks a great performance out of a generally underdeveloped character, although his transformation from selfish to fatherly happens seemingly overnight.
Points for the numerous exotic locations and a pair of seriously solid performances from both leading men, but Table for Five doesn't contain much sincerity beneath the surface. And its casual manipulation sucks any poignancy out of a finale that really should have delivered a strong emotional punch.
Video: As is nearly always the case when dealing with a Paramount catalog release, the transfer is a pretty darn impressive Widescreen Anamorphic affair. Some of the darker scenes exhibit that background fuzz, and you'll also find a few stray visual glitches from the original source print, but overall this is as good as Table for Five is ever bound to look.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0, and again, the technical merits of the DVD are not really in question. It's a strong audio transfer, but we're dealing with a movie that's mostly a big ball of dialogue. Optional subtitles are available in English.
A mild and not-too-terribly engaging male-centric weepie, Table for Five is certainly worthy of a rental should you be a big fan of Jon Voight and/or Richard Crenna, but it's also a dated and obvious throwback to an era in which the concept of Divorce & Single Dads was considered quite topical and, somehow, fascinating enough to disseminate through a series of rather ham-fisted wannabe tearjerkers. If they'd just stuck with the "estranged Dad slowly learning how to be a good parent" angle, we might have had something a bit more engaging, but the third act of Table for Five is about as realistic as your average Star Wars prequel, and it ends on a note of pure, ponderous artifice.