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Variety proclaimed that Melvin Goes to Dinner “reminds us of what Woody Allen used to deliver in his movies.” Not so. Melvin is more like the films Allen makes now: endlessly talky affairs in which groups of self-satisfied moderns blather smugly, spouting such verities as “This ‘belief’ thing kills me” while a handheld camera tries to keep things in focus. The difference is that instead of taking place in New York, Melvin is set in Los Angeles, so the people are younger and prettier. The title is the plot: Four more or less strangers (Michael Blieden, Stephanie Courtney, Annabelle Gurwitch, and Matt Price) meet for dinner at a hep bistro and the casualness of their relationship becomes a catalyst for them to be “honest” about their lives. The feature-length dinner is interrupted by flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sidewayses, and other time-line trickery of the indie-film variety. Many reviewersnot to mention the filmmakersinsist that Melvin is funny, and director Bob Odenkirk is indeed a funny fellow, best known for his delightfully snarky HBO comedy, Mr. Show. Even soand despite Mr. Show co-conspirator David Cross’ tiny cameo as a self-help guru offering “a new way of ME-ing” and Jack Black’s longer cameo as a supposedly colorful schizophrenicMelvin skews closer to dramedy than chucklefest. Yes, people who look to All in the Family as a source of wisdom and guidance are to be laughed at, but the laughs are smothered by the actors’ unyielding earnestness. Price’s pained-looking smirk is particularly off-putting, and a running gag about a goofy waitress doesn’t exactly paint the quartet as endearing. All of which makes the interesting and unexpected late-flick twist that makes the viewer mentally rewind the previous hour’s conversation simply too little, too late. Screenplay author and Melvin actor Blieden admits on the film’s Web site that in creating his script, “I have stolen shamelessly from the lives of my friends, often quoting word for word.” Isn’t that special? Someoneand I’m not sure whomight consider seeking new friends. Dave Nuttycombe