Mickey Stern (Joseph Bologna) met the love of his life, Leah (Kylie Delre) on Fire Island in 1950, but lost track of her when he was drafted into the Korean War. Twenty-five years later, he miraculously reconnected with her and married her, but she died shortly thereafter. A bitter, mournful Mickey returns to Fire Island with his buddy Harry (Tom Bosley) and runs into not only young Ilana (Delre again), who bears an uncanny resemblance to Leah, but also 17-year-old Michael (Joshua Fishbein), who could be the teenage Mickey himself, reincarnated. Mickey decides to mentor Michael in wooing Ilana, in an attempt to relive his past and rectify his old mistakes.

For writer-director Michael Prywes, Returning Mickey Stern is obviously a highly personal labor of love. For all of its complex exposition and brimming biographical detail, it feels more like a cheaply shot film-class project than a real movie. It has a shambling, waffling quality, which bespeaks a combination of authorial uncertainty and shaky improvisation. The camera lingers a bit too long on certain shots and scene endings, as if Prywes felt so lucky to get the footage in the first place, he was reluctant to cut. This, added to the twee, overtly nostalgic, old-codger flavor of his screenplay, really demands tons of audience goodwill.

Bologna spices his rather tiresomely hectoring role with amusing moments of authentic anger and impatience, which amount to the most real excitement here. Delre is okay, but hardly such stuff as the dreams of two generations of men are made of. Fishbein has an average-Joe charm, but Bosley utilizes a cringe-inducing Yiddish accent right out of the oldest vaudeville routine imaginable. A weirdly ageless Connie Stevens has a cameo role, and Rene Taylor is, in a word, grotesque as a horny barfly who can't wait to get into Bosley's pants.

--David Noh