Opened Friday, Sept. 26 (Variance Films)

Following in the footsteps of Jane Fonda's "Monster-in-Law," this film starring Diane Keaton seemingly demonstrates that the fate of '70s era Oscar winners seems to be playing aging mothers from hell in woeful feature length sit-coms. Wisely opened without advance press screenings, "Smother" also proves that "Mad Money" actually wasn't Keaton's career nadir.

It's sad to watch the star of Woody Allen's landmark films, not to mention such dramatic triumphs as "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," flounder in this painfully unfunny comedy in which she makes her entrance wearing a pumpkin costume. She plays Marilyn, the ultra-annoying mother of Noah (Dax Shepard), who shows up on her son's doorstep late one night with her five dogs in tow, announcing that she's left his philandering father (Ken Howard).

This doesn't sit well with Noah, who's simultaneously coping with his recent job loss and the desperate efforts of his wife Claire (Liv Tyler) to get pregnant, which he's attempting to sabotage via an array of such sperm-reducing techniques as masturbating right before sex and wearing underwear four sizes too small. He also has to cope with another unwelcome houseguest, a would-be screenwriter played by, in a sort of inside joke, screenwriter Mike White.

The script, by Tim Rasmussen and director Vince Di Meglio, aims for black comedy, but misses by a wide mark, with such scenes as an elderly woman being struck by a fatal heart attack in a bowling alley and scoring a strike with her motorized wheelchair and the subsequent funeral in which family grievances are aired in dueling eulogies.

Keaton simply embarrasses herself at every turn; the bland Shepard seems to be channeling Zack Braff; and Tyler, although looking lovely in the sexy underwear she's forced to wear in many scenes, looks like she would prefer to be anywhere else.

"Smother" marks the debut release from a new independent distributor, Variance Films, in yet another sign that the indie distribution model has to be dramatically rethought.

Production Companies: Carsey-Werner Company, Double Edge Entertainment, Everyman Pictures, Germie & Bucky, Grand Army Entertainment, Inferno Distribution, Smother Productions
CAST: Diane Keaton, Dax Shepard, Liv Tyler, Mike White, Ken Howard
Director: Vince Di Meglio
Screenwriters: Tim Rasmussen, Vince Di Meglio
Executive producers: Johnson Chan, Carsten H.W. Lorenz, Jennifer Perini, Jim Seibel, Bobby Sheng
Producers: Johnson Chan, Bill Johnson, Tim Rasmussen, Jay Roach
Director of photography: Julio Macat
Production designer: Mark Hutman
Music: Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe
Costume designer: Alexandra Welker
Editor: Kelly Matsumoto
Rated PG-13, 93 minutes