Stars: Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Michael Richards, Maury Chaykin, Nathan Watt. Written by Richard LaGravenese. Directed by Diane Keaton. Rated PG.

With a title like "Unstrung Heroes", you'd expect this film to be a slapstick comedy suitable only for the "Home Alone" set. But behind the inauspicious title lurks a touching drama. Sure, Michael Richards plays a character only minimally different from the manic Kramer, the character he plays on TV's "Seinfeld". And, yes, there are several other reasons to chuckle, too. But at its heart, the film is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life.

12 year-old Steven Lidz (Nathan Watt), who gets made fun of at school because his father (John Turturro) is a whimsical inventor, has just learned that his best friend in the world is dying. His best friend just happens to be his mother Selma (Andie MacDowell), for it is she who recognizes and encourages Steven's talents and sweet spirit. Unable to cope with seeing his mother die, he sneaks away to live with his two uncles who share a cluttered apartment nearby.

Uncle Arthur isn't terribly bright, but he has a good heart. Uncle Danny also has a good heart, but he sees society as one big conspiracy and insists that there are only eight trustworthy people in the world. Although outwardly peculiar, these two men have a profound, positive influence on Steven. When the summer ends and Steven must return to his home, he finds himself better prepared to face the sadness that is now close at hand.

The whole cast of "Unstrung Heroes" is right on the money. Great casting and even better performances contribute heartily to this satisfying entertainment. Diane Keaton, who is better known in front of the camera than behind it, does an agreeable job directing only her second feature film. Affecting without dripping with sentimentality, funny without condescending, "Unstrung Heroes" scores on many levels.

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