Five Sisters Productions
Shirley Jones and Cloris Leachman in inept "Manna From Heaven."

You hate to be cruel to a film like "Manna From Heaven," which has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, this independently produced comedy-drama is so inept that it's hard to be kind.

"Manna" is also insufferably cute and overstays its welcome by at least 30 minutes — something that makes even more evident its relentless mediocrity.

You may pull a muscle trying not to cringe as such long-time screen veterans as Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman and Frank Gorshin embarrass themselves with over-the-top performances.

The film's title refers to thousands of dollars that basically fall into the laps of some Buffalo, N.Y., residents. But rather than turn it in or report it to the police, they decide to keep it and split it up.

Decades later, that decision is still weighing heavily on the mind of Theresa (Ursula Burton, also one of the film's producers), a nun who's known for being possibly too generous. So she sends out an urgent plea to the other recipients, who wonder what all the fuss is about. She proposes that they give back the money. However, they still don't know whose cash it was and, besides, most of them went through it long ago.

That doesn't deter Theresa, though, who proposes they hold a fund-raiser and then donate those proceeds. The catch is, they've got less than a month to do so, and at least one of them — fast-talking con man Ed (Gorshin) — sees it as a way to make a quick buck.

The film is well-intended and its attempts to stress the importance of compassion and kindness over material goods is a welcome one. But co-directors Gabrielle C. and Maria Burton let most of the scenes run on long past the punchline. And most of the cast members evidently received so little direction that their performances suffered as a result. Aside from Wendy Malick's smart turn as a tough-talking casino dealer, few of them are watchable.

"Manna From Heaven" is rated PG for scattered use of profanity, some crude humor relating to bodily functions, and glimpses of nude artwork. Running time: 119 minutes.