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Dr T and The Women

Richard Gere playing a gynecologist sounds like it might be a bad joke, but in Robert Altman's delightful new film Dr. T and the Woman it turns out to be inspired casting.

Gere plays Dr. Sullivan Travis who caters to the prominent women of Dallas. In some ways, Dr. T is too good to be true. He's gentle and kind, believes women are "saints" and knows exactly what to say to soothe his patients.

On the surface, he has the picture perfect family -- a loving wife (Farrah Fawcett) and two daughters, Dee Dee (Kate Hudson), who is busy planning her upcoming wedding, and Connie (Tara Reid), a JFK assassination enthusiast who offers guided tours of Deeley Plaza to tourists. Even his sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) has descended with her daughters for an indefinite stay, but nothing seems out of the ordinary. Dr. T even manages to bond with his buddies (Robert Hays, Matt Malloy and Andy Richter) over golf, skeet shooting, duck hunting and sandwiches. For him, life is damn near perfect.

Of course, no one can have a perfect life, and Dr. T's is hit with major upheaval. First, his wife suffers a breakdown and goes skinny dipping in a mall fountain. Then Connie starts to drop suggestions that there may be a compelling reason why her sister shouldn't get married. While his home life unravels, Dr. T's office is abuzz with activity, all overseen with efficiency by Carolyn (Shelley Long). When the good doctor meets a retired golf pro (Helen Hunt), he finds himself doing the impossible -- that is, drifting into an affair.

Robert Altman directs the film with a sure hand and manages to include his trademark touches like overlapping dialogue and great ensemble acting. Altman has always had a particular touch with actresses and most of the women in the film rise to the challenge, fleshing out what could have become caricatures in lesser actresses' hands.

Farrah Fawcett takes a relatively small role and invests it with the appropriate pathos. Kate Hudson is terrific as the doctor's daughter who is harboring a secret, and Tara Reid is also quite good as the younger daughter who constantly tells her father "don't worry about me." Laura Dern nearly steals the entire the film, though, as Peggy, the boozy, pushy sister-in-law while Shelley Long does some of her best screen work as Dr. T's long-suffering office manager. Only Helen Hunt seems out of place as the somewhat masculine golf pro. She and Gere don't exactly strike sparks so their relationship fails to come alive and hurts the film's plot.

There's a bang-up twist ending that some may find a bit too precious but given all that transpired before, it makes for a nice wrap-up. Dr. T and the Women may not rank as one of Robert Altman's all-time best films (like Nashville or Three Women), but it still is an enjoyable ride that showcases Richard Gere at his best.