This second anthology of high-toned hogwash, Women & Men 2, is, like last season's edition, a trilogy of tepid tales based on the work of famous authors. Last year the lineup was Ernest Hemingway, Mary McCarthy, and Dorothy Parker; this time around it's Carson McCullers, Irwin Shaw, and Henry Miller. And like the first Women & Men, this new edition features a strong cast, including Matt Dillon (Drugstore Cowboy), Andie MacDowell (Green Card), Scott Glenn (Backdraft), and Ray Liotta (GoodFellas).
It's as if, having selected such classy writers and casts, producers David Brown and William S. Gilmore just walked away, figuring that everything would work out just fine: The results are three shapeless messes, a trio of aimless anecdotes full of histrionic yelling and hollow portentousness.
I can muster a few compliments, though. As a boxer in ''Return to Kansas City,'' Dillon is a convivial lunkhead rather than the dull dope that Irwin Shaw's story describes. In ''Mara,'' Glenn does a fine, subtle job of embodying Henry Miller's fictional alter ego, a poor American writer in Paris. Playing a writer is one of the most difficult things to do interestingly, and Glenn accomplishes this with a striking mixture of diffidence and intensity.
In McCullers' ''A Domestic Dilemma,'' MacDowell is encouraged to play a Southern drunk with hammy flamboyance, while Liotta must mope around looking depressed that his wife is a hammily flamboyant Southern drunk strictly snoozeville. But the two prepubescent actors who play the couple's children Michael Galeota and Eva Donia Silver-Smith are marvelous. First-time director Kristi Zea (she was the production designer for The Silence of the Lambs) has extracted a pair of beautifully spontaneous, earnest, and occasionally goofy performances from these imps. D+