By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Everybody sees only static.
Ernie Blick (Keith Gordon) works at a crucifix factory, but dreams of making it big with his secret invention. The whole town that he lives in is abuzz about it and many take bets as to what it is. However, once Ernie unveils it no one is impressed. Ernie insists that he has created a device that can show live images of heaven, but all anyone else can see on the TV screen is static. Ernie becomes frustrated that no one can appreciate what he has done so he hijacks a bus carrying a group of senior citizens in order to create a media event that will allow him to share his invention with the rest of the world, but things don’t go as planned.
The film has that refreshing look and feel of an authentic indie flick made long before it was trendy and still in its infancy of being a trailblazer for original ideas. It’s fun and clever most of the way including a memorable shot of Ernie’s weird crucifix collection. The humor is subtle and hip with a cool music selection from lesser known 80’s bands. Director Mark Romanek shows great visual flair with his use of unique settings and color designs. The dialogue and characters are both engaging and quirky. I also loved the opening credits, which features a small, static filled TV screen in the distant background along with the sound of a low hum, which I found to be strangely hypnotic.
Gordon, who co-wrote the screenplay, does well in a difficult role where the viewer is supposed to find him likable and appealing despite the fact that he is clearly a bit unhinged. Amanda Plummer as his girlfriend gets a rare turn as being the most normal one in the film, which is interesting. Bob Gunton has a few choice moments as a conniving preacher man named Frank and Jane Hoffman is amusing as a senior citizen who tries to help Ernie on his mission.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t carry the quirky idea to a successful completion. It might have worked better had there been some image of some kind seen and then everyone could’ve debated whether that was indeed heaven or not instead of just seeing static, which comes off like a big buildup to nothing. The satire is too obvious and its overall message frustratingly vague. The violent and completely unexpected tragic ending is jarring and unnecessary and ruins its otherwise pleasant, whimsical tone.
There is also a scene where Gordon and Plummer go to a restaurant and order food, but when it gets served they barely touch it and then a minute later get up and leave after paying the bill, but why pay for something or even order if you’re just going to leave it there untouched? This is an annoying thing that I’ve seen happen in other films as well. I hate to sound preachy, but sometimes when I see these types of scenes I feel like screaming ‘There’s kids starving in Africa, so don’t waste your food people’!
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: October 1, 1985
Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes
Director: Mark Romanek