Before You Know It undermined by too many sitcom punch lines

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      Starring Hannah Pearl Utt. Rated PG

      The best thing in this uneven dramedy is the sheer novelty of the setting, built around two sisters who work and live with their single dad above the Greenwich Village theatre he has run (at a loss) for decades.

      Played by a mugging Mandy Patinkin, the dad’s an irascible crank who wears his failed-artist status as a badge of honour. Well-organized younger daughter Rachel (Hannah Pearl Utt), a stage manager and budding wordsmith, has arranged for him to get a fellowship to fund his new play. He screws that up in no time. (The play is called The Way I See It, which competes with Before You Know It for instantly forgettable blandness.)

      Rachel’s sister Jackie (Jen Tullock) is a ditzy motormouth, would-be actress, and perennial screwup, the accumulated effects of which are starting to rankle her 12-year-old kid (cast standout Oona Yaffe). We don’t spend much time exploring their offbeat family dynamic before fate and/or contractual obligations remove Patinkin from the picture. A change in their financial situation forces the sisters to discover that the mother they’d been told was dead is very much alive, and starring in a long-running daytime soap, conveniently shot nearby.

      Broadway doyen Judith Light, who got her own start in soaps, plays the mom, and this offers some nice harmonies, but things soon go sideways.

      The movie was directed by Utt, who wrote it with Tullock, and they turn a potentially complex family journey into silly farce and still expect you to care. The sisters never stop bickering, with an insistent supply of sitcom punch lines that rarely land right. The main characters aren’t particularly engaging, or well-designed. Rachel is supposed to be a talented writer, for example, so it’s odd that when she stumbles into a chance to work on her erstwhile mother’s soap, her best pitch involves, yup, an evil twin!

      Alec Baldwin and Luke Cage star Mike Colter have cameos as a child psychologist and an accountant, respectively, but neither the subplots nor the main story pays off with significant laughs or insight.

      At 98 minutes, the whole thing feels like a short theatre sketch that, before they knew it, got out of hand.