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`PARALLEL LIVES’ AN EXERCISE IN MUDDLED SELF-INDULGENCE

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The people who made "Parallel Lives" (Sunday, 6 p.m., Showtime) are just thrilled with it.

The director, Linda Yellen, as well as several members of the enormous cast - 19 major parts - effusively praised this "art form" in a recent appearance before critics. Like last year's "Chantilly Lace," this is an improvised movie - the plot is outlined and a few surprises are thrown in by the director, but the actors come up with their own lines, their own reactions, their own interpretations of characters they have largely created themselves.(And like "Lace," "Lives" was shot here in Utah - largely at Fort Douglas, which stood in for a small college - in association with the Sundance Institute.)

It's obvious that the actors had a lot of fun doing this movie. But watching it is a lot less fun.

Once you get over the quaint little device of improvisation, what you're left with is a self-indulgent, muddled, often obnoxious, often ridiculous melange that's so full of actors that none of them have enough time to develop their characters.

The basic plot centers on a fraternity and sorority reunion, complete with childish behavior by people who should have outgrown panty raids decades earlier. And when somebody dies, there's a brief, ridiculous investigation of the sort that's been done better in many low-budget, third-rate TV movies.

The cast includes James Belushi, LeVar Burton, James Brolin, Lindsay Crouse, Jill Eikenberry, Ben Gazzara Jack Klugman, Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Gena Rowlands, Helen Slater, Paul Sorvino, Robert Wagner, Patricia Wettig, JoBeth Williams and Treat Williams. Several of the characters were mildly interesting and maybe worth exploring - but shoehorned into this overblown mess, there wasn't time.

And several of those actors should be cringing in horror not only at the vile language that came out of their mouths, but at the foolishness that came not only out of both their mouths but their brains. (Just one example has Belushi on a bender comparing men and women to bowls and oatmeal. Really.)

"Parallel Lives" should have remained a nice little exercise in improvisation for these actors and should never have been captured on film and inflicted on Showtime subscribers.

"Parallel Lives" is not rated, but would be an R for language and sexual situations.