The Check is in the Mail (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban man drops-out.

Richard (Brian Dennehy) is a married father who’s finding the suburban American Dream not as satisfying as he thought. While he does live a semi-comfortable existence the bills and other demands are making him stressed and he feels the only way to fight it is by dropping-out. He turns his front lawn into a vegetable garden, buys goats and chickens, and even turn-off the electricity. While this gives him some local fame and even a subject of a TV-news report, it does not go-off well with the rest of his family, but Richard, who used to be a social activist during his college days, feels the need to stay the course.

While the film has an interesting premise, the script, which was written by Robert Kaufman, who had success in the early part of his career, but was clearly slumming by this point, goes nowhere. It takes almost 40-minutes in before the dropping-out part even begins and before that meanders around in a lot of loosely related stuff that makes it seem almost like a sketch comedy and not a cohesive story. Certain elements, like Richard’s gambling problems, get glossed over and the film makes no attempt at analyzing anything in any type of realistic way.

With that said there were a few funny bits. The chant that Richard starts and gets others to follow along at an airport is good. Him taking the his car out for a spin in order to test out the supposedly repaired brakes while the forcing the mechanic (Richard Foronjy) to ride along is entertaining too. I also got a kick out of Richard vacationing in Hawaii and sleeping overnight by the pool in order to be able to get a deck chair and how everyone is so desperate to get one and keep it that when a man who cannot swim jumps into the pool no one tries to save him even his own wife for fear they’ll lose their seat. The neighbor’s birthday party, which gets disrupted by Richard’s goats and chickens, who inadvertently raid the place via an open window, is quite funny and the best part of the movie. There are though some really dumb moments like Richard’s wife (Anne Archer) visiting a psychiatrist (Harry Townes) that gets needlessly prolonged, cliched, and not necessary.

Dennehy is likable and while consumers getting upset and losing their temper in public at modern-day inconveniences was a little more socially acceptable then than it is now, as this behavior could get him labled a ‘male Karen’ by today’s standards, he’s able to pull it-off in a way that makes you want to cheer for him instead of judging him as being ‘entitled’. Dick Shawn and Nita Talbot appear late in the film as Dennehy’s neighbors in scenes shot after the main production had wrapped and done by a different director (Ted Kotcheff). While these moments help give energy to a film that otherwise flat-lines, and Shawn even ad-libs, it still would’ve been better had they been introduced earlier.

Dropping-out is certainly something that everyone has secretly thought of at one time or another, but this film doesn’t do it justice. It fails to dig deeply into the subject and misses out on a lot of potentially unique scenarios and insights. The result is a mish-mash of quirky concepts that doesn’t add up to much and fails to makes any type of meaningful, or impactful statement.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joan Darling, Ted Kotcheff (uncredited)

Studio: Ascot Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

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