Modern Problems (1981)

modern problems

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chevy acquires telekinetic powers.

Being dumped by his girlfriend (Patti D’Arbanville) and working a stressful job as an air traffic controller Max (Chevy Chase) finds himself falling into a deep depression. Then one night while following a truck home that is carrying nuclear waste he and his car get sloshed with a greenish liquid that spews out the back end of the truck’s tank. Soon afterwards he realizes that he can make objects move and uses this new found ability to try and win his girlfriend back while getting revenge on her new boyfriend (Mitch Kreindel).

The film is written and directed by Ken Shapiro who earlier teamed up with Chase to do The Grove Tube and like with that one the story is widely unfocused throwing in gags that have nothing to do with the central theme. It takes too long for Max to acquire his special powers and when he does it doesn’t go far enough with it wasting a potentially creative idea on what turns out to be just another comedy dealing with modern day relationships. The movie is horribly dated with a bit having Chase sniff up some white ‘demon dust’ in a not so subtle take on cocaine that at a time when free basing was still considered trendy might’ve been considered ‘cool’ and ‘hilarious’ by its intended audience. The opening segment is insulting to actual air traffic controllers as it makes them all look like they’re lazy and incompetent and the silly cartoon-like sounds added to the special effects gives the whole thing a very kiddie-like feel.

The logic of this thing is crazy as well. I realize being exposed to nuclear waste can bring cancer, birth defects and a wide assortment of other ailments, but nowhere have I read that it can cause telekinesis making the whole premise dumb and dubious from the start. The idea of having all these amazing powers, but only using them sparingly while moping around hoping somehow to get back into his girlfriend’s favor seems quite limiting as most people with his abilities would have much broader ambitions like saving the world or even conquering it for that matter. Although politically incorrect there could’ve been a wide array of things that he could’ve done to ‘win his girlfriend back’ like suspending her in mid-air until she agrees to see him exclusively. Also, when he notices that he is glowing green and has spots all over his face when looking into a mirror you would think he would immediately run to the nearest doctor, but doesn’t and when he finally does expose his powers to everybody else by levitating the Dabney Coleman character the other people in the room respond with a ho-hum attitude instead of screaming and running away like a normal person would.

Chase’s deadpan talents get wasted here and during the second half he becomes almost comatose during a lame parody of The Exorcist. Dabney Coleman gets equally wasted as he speaks in a weird accent while playing his trademark egotistical character that for some reason isn’t as engaging as it usually is. You also get to see a shot of his bare ass, which to me wasn’t a good thing, but there is a thread on IMDB with people stating in all seriousness that it is one of the ‘best looking asses ever’, ‘pure perfection’ and ‘the greatest moment in cinema history’, so I guess to each his own.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Shapiro

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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