By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Stolen loot inside coffin.
Based on the 1974 novel ‘The Next-to-Last Train Ride’ by Charles Dennis, the story centers on Michael Rangeloff (Micheal O’Keefe) who is a con-man on the run from a women’s roller derby team by hiding out as a U.S. Army General. He boards a train that has a coffin on it with millions of stolen dollars hidden inside. Once he becomes aware of this he tries to hatch a plan with a kooky actress (Beverly D’Angelo) that he meets along the way in helping him to get the money out of the coffin and off the train without being detected.
This is the type of film that gives comical farces a bad name. I’m all for comedies with a hyper-frantic pace and mistaken identities, but it still needs to have some grounding in what’s possible. This thing relies way too heavily on coincidences and random events to hold it together. The whole scenario that leads Michael getting onto the train is too much of an overreach. A more sane and less dizzying premise would’ve had Michael working on the train as a conductor from the start and then coming onto the money by chance, which would’ve been far less protracted.
His relationship with D’Angelo is dumb too. The women immediately comes-off as a babbling nutcase, even admits to suffering from mental health issues, and the type of person who usually gets thrown off of trains and planes for their disruptive behavior. Most people would be glad to be away from her the first chance they had and yet here the two end up going to bed together and profess their undying love for each other within 24-hours of first meeting.
The original concept was to use this as a vehicle for Dudley Moore, but that idea got nixed when the studio decided they wanted to make it an ensemble comedy instead, which was a big mistake. O’Keefe plays the role admirable, but he doesn’t have enough finesse that a comic star would. The supporting cast doesn’t help either. David Wayne’s portrayal of the world’s oldest conductor relies too heavily on the stereotype that every person who gets elderly must also be senile and it’ hard to imagine how anyone could hold done a job being as forgetful and out-of-touch as his character is. Ed Lauter, who wears a wig here, does not have the needed comic flair to make his bad-guy role either interesting or amusing. Oh, and Jim Carrey appears briefly too, but it’s a small bit that isn’t anything special.
Richard Lester directed many good comedies in his career, but the stylish quality that made up so much of his films from the 60’s is completely missing here. Everything gets captured in a flat, uninspired way and I didn’t like the Canadian province of Alberta being substituted for Nebraska as its flat wheat fields look nothing like the rolling prairie of the Midwest and the bleak late autumn topography complete with leafless trees gives off a chilly, depressing feel.
The scene where D’Angelo and Lauter find themselves inside a house while it is being trucked down a highway is kind of cool and outside of the low budget 80’s flick Mind Trap, the only time I’ve seen this done on film. Watching the house then end up losing its roof, after it goes under a low hanging overhead sign, and going down the road with skeletal frame exposed is fun too, but everything else is a bore that tries too hard to be frantic when it wasn’t necessary.
I was also confused why the setting of the story had to be in the year 1973 as it doesn’t play-up the 70’s era enough to make it worth it. My only guess was that with the Vietnam War still raging that it fit into the storyline of having dead soldiers returning home in coffins. However, since the US continually gets involved in foreign conflicts all the time this same scenario could easily work in any time period and sadly wasn’t unique just to that decade.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: May 18, 1984
Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes
Director: Richard Lester
Studio: Warner Brothers