Utilities (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Social worker battles bureaucracy.

Bob (Robert Hays) is a social worker who’s fed up with the utility companies who shut the heat off to a group of senior citizens when they can’t pay their bill, which almost causes them to freeze to death. He decides to get revenge by having his techno wiz friend Eddie (Benjamin Gordan) rig the companies computers so that the customers get paid directly by the same utility companies that have been screwing them over. Unfortunately Bob’s new girlfriend (Brooke Adams) who is also a cop won’t hesitate to turn him in if she finds out that he’s the one behind the scheme.

This was filmed in 1980, but sat on the shelf for 3 years and it’s easy to see why as the humor is quite flat.  For some reason it was produced by a Canadian company and filmed in Toronto, which they then try to mask as being Chicago and I’m not sure why. Can’t these types of scenarios happen in Canada or is the US the only one with greedy corporations? The effort to try and seem like an American film doesn’t work as Canadians have a much different sense of humor and the whole thing comes off, much like Fear is the Key another film produced by our friends to the north, but filmed here, very off-kilter right from the start.  It’s like the film’s director Harvey Hart doesn’t really understand American culture as the characters behave in ways unlike anyone that I know.

It’s also against the law to turn off the heat or gas  on someone between the months of November and March, or if the temperature dips below 32 even if it’s because they cannot pay their bill or are struggling with financial hardship. I’m not sure if the filmmakers knew this being from Canada, or if they thought the viewers would be unaware so it didn’t matter, but in either case it shoots the entire scenario down dead on arrival.

It’s fun watching Hays who’s best known for his starring role in the cult hit Airplane as he portrays a much different character here. Instead of just being this dull dimwit like in that film he’s much more emotional here and even aggressively opinionated, which is fine. The only problem I had is I couldn’t understand why he would want to date Adams who had him arrested when he tried to stop the gas company from turning off the heat as the two just didn’t seem to have much in common and if anything it would’ve been more fun had they remained adversarial throughout only to finally soften on each other at the very end.

I happen to be a big fan of satire, but it has to have an edge to it. Trying to lampoon greedy corporations is not at all interesting and too easy of a target. The company’s CEO, which is played by James Blendick, is portrayed too broadly and is nothing more than a boring caricature as are the elderly tenants who battle him. Potentially serious issues get lost in a script that wants to pad everything over in a cutesy way that ultimately proves to be both mindless and forgettable.

Alternative Titles: Getting Even, Up Your Gas Company

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: June 13, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Astral Films

Available: VHS (Vestron Video)

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