Category Archives: Movies Based on Actual Events

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Story of Adele H. (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She obsesses over soldier.

Based on actual events the story centers around Adele Hugo (Isabelle Adjani), the second daughter of famous French writer Victor Hugo, who in 1863 travels across the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia where she tries to rekindle her relations with Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson). Pinson is now an officer in the British army and no longer has any interest in Adele. Adele though refuses to accept his rejection and makes numerous attempts to get him to marry her. The more indifferent he becomes the harder she tries, which eventually drives her into a complete madness.

Director Francois Truffaut took the accounts from Adele’s actual handwritten diary to help recreate the story. Unlike most films nothing was altered from the documented facts and although the stalker /jilted lover theme may seem like an overused storyline by today’s standards it was still a fresh topic back in the ‘70s and one of the first documented cases in human history of what has now become known as erotomania where a person becomes convinced that the object of their desires is in love with them even when they really aren’t.

What helps this film to stand out is that the audience isn’t made to fear the woman and her actions are not portrayed as being menacing. Instead the viewer feels genuinely sorry for her as we witness firsthand how debilitating mental illness can truly be as it destroys this otherwise beautiful woman’s personality and leaves her only a shell of a person in the process.

Adjani is excellent and although the film remains compelling it still comes off as feeling incomplete. Part of the problem is that we only see the character at one stage of her life. Reportedly in real-life Adele only started to show signs of mental illness when she reached her mid-20’s, so it would’ve been interesting to have seen scenes from when she was younger and behaving more normally. Flashbacks of when Adele first met Pinson, who was initially interested in Adele and even proposed marriage to her, would’ve been intriguing to see as well.

We’re never shown Adele’s relationship to her father either, which could’ve been quite revealing. We hear voice-overs from when he sends her letters, but seeing the two interrelate in-person was needed. This may have been the result of Truffaut given the rights to film the story by Jean Hugo, but only if Victor Hugo did not appear onscreen, but in either event the film is lacking in budget and scope where a wider biopic of the woman’s life would’ve been more satisfying including showing her later years while inside a mental institution, which gets only glossed over here.

As in most cases what occurred behind-the-scenes while the film was being made is sometimes more interesting that what happened in front of the camera and this production proved to be no exception as the cast and crew went through many of the same scenarios as the characters. Truffaut tried to start up a relationship with Adjani, but was rebuffed and then she turned around and had an affair with the actor who plays the character that rebuffs her character in the movie. This caused Truffaut great jealousy as he was forced to deal with the two’s affair from afar much like Adele had to do in the story when Pinson eventually marries someone else. Truffaut later described making this movie and dealing with his unrequited love for Adjani as a ‘daily suffering’.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Reds (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights for socialism.

The film centers on the life of John Reed (Warren Beatty) who was a socialist activist that covered the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and later published his account in ‘The Ten Days That Shook the World’.  He became instrumental in forming the Communist Labor Party of America and marrying noted feminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) before returning to Russia and eventually dying there becoming only one of three Americans buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

The project was a labor of love for writer/star/director/producer Warren Beatty who first became inspired by Reed’s story in the mid-‘60s and spent over15 years battling to get it produced. Unlike most actors-turned-directors Beatty was notoriously disliked by his cast and crew for demanding many different takes for even the simplest of scenes forcing his friend Gene Hackman, who agreed to appear in the film for free, to do 100 takes to convey only a few brief lines. Beatty also strangely decided to keep the camera running continuously even between takes resulting in three million feet of footage that weighed five tons to ship and if played continuously on the screen would’ve resulted in taking two and a half weeks to complete.

The story is okay and moderately compelling, but I felt too much emphasis was placed on Reed’s and Bryant’s relationship. Supposedly this was a biography on a famous historical figure, but the story gets lodged more on the rocky, unconventional marriage aspect and seemed at times to be more focused on Keaton’s character than Beatty’s.

I was also confused as to what exactly had Reed done that was so special, or elicit us to sit through such a long movie about him. In a normal epic the main character is instrumental in causing the events that we see, but here the protagonist is nothing more than a sideline observer with no direct control on what goes on. Technically he doesn’t change anything and the film is just one long look at how whatever he strived either fizzled or got corrupted before he eventually dies in virtual obscurity, which hardly seems inspiring or worth the time to watch.

The supporting cast helps significantly particularly Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill who has an affair with Bryant. It’s always interesting to seeing Nicholson play a subdued character since he’s usually so flamboyant and Jack makes the most of it, which helps give the story a little extra edge. Maureen Stapleton won the Academy Award for supporting actress even though her character is only seen sporadically, but she probably deserved the Award either way since she became a victim of Beatty’s overzealous need for multiple takes, which so infuriated her that she apparently screamed ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?” when Beatty demanded that she redo her scene for the 80th  time which got the rest of the crew to cheer their approval.

It’s also fun to see Jerzy Kosinski as the communist politician Grigory Zinoviev. Kosinski was best known for having written the novel ‘Being There’, which inspired the film of the same name, but later he was accused of having plagiarized the story from an earlier Polish novel and it was revealed that many of his other stories were ghost written by assistant editors, which is ironic since his character in the film gets accused by Beatty of having tampered and re-written his speeches and writings.

As a whole it’s adequately done, but the pace ebbs and flows. The interviews with people who actually knew Reed, or were connected to his life in some way are a highlight as is the scene where Reed tries to escape Russia by riding on a hand cart along a train track in the dead of winter, but everything else gets overblown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1981

Runtime: 3 Hours 15 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Warren Beatty

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fashion model is troubled.

Lou Andreas Sand (Faye Dunaway) was a once famous fashion model who now sits in an isolated seaside cabin telling her life story to Aaron (Barry Primus) who records her conversations which he plans to use as a basis for an upcoming film. Through her stories she describes of being molested at the age of 15 by a much older man, her bouts with drugs and alcohol, her time spent inside a mental hospital and how she jilted her fiancé (Roy Scheider) by running out on him on their wedding day.

This film marks the directorial debut of Jerry Schatzberg who up until that time was best known as a still photographer and having captured the cover of Bob Dylan’s seventh album Blonde on Blonde. The inspiration for the movie was the life of model Anne Saint Marie who Schatzberg interviewed much the same way that the Aaron character does in the movie.

Unfortunately the director clearly doesn’t understand what makes his main character tick as she comes off as this one-dimensional, self-destructive cliché whose perpetually sad tales of woo become increasingly more contrived as the film goes on. We get no insight as to why she behaves the way she does turning her into a maddening caricature that frustrates the viewer and allows for no empathy.

A great deal of effort was put into the film’s visual style and on that level it’s a fascinating achievement. Adam Holender’s cinematography is quite vivid and makes you feel like you’re right there in the same room with the characters, but the fragmented narrative that comes with it is unappealing. Certain interesting dramatic moments get dropped and never gone back to, or readdressed at a much later time long after the viewer has lost interest. I suppose this is the reason that the word ‘puzzle’ gets used in the title as we are supposed to ‘piece together’ this woman’s life and personality through the erratic bits that she gives us, but she only succeeds at becoming an enigma.

Dunaway is a great actress, but tends to do better in parts calling for strong or emotionally ambivalent women. Playing the roles of vulnerable people is definitely not her forte. She’s managed to do it a few times, but it’s not easy for her and here she fails at it completely as she doesn’t understand her character’s motivations any better than the viewer.

The one actress that does do well here is Viveca Lindfors who was a beauty in her day, but by this time was already aging into her later years and yet she commands the screen with the brief time that she is on it and had she been seen more she might’ve saved it. However, the story lacks substance fails to be compelling and leaves the viewer with a lot of fleeting, fragmented images and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Amityville 3-D (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Same house, new owner.

John Baxter (Tony Roberts) is a reporter for Reveal magazine that specializes in investigating paranormal activity. He takes on the challenge of moving into the infamous Long Island home to prove that it really isn’t haunted, but when he does strange things begin to occur. At first he ignores them convinced that there must be a ‘rational explanation’ instead, but as the frights intensify he becomes convinced otherwise.

I hate having to give every one of the horror movies that I’ve seen so far this month only 1 point as I would legitimately like getting scared a little, but it’s just not happening. I was hoping this one would be better as some reviewers implied that it was, but it’s just as bad as the other two and actually even worse. At least the first two had some overreacting that I found unintentionally funny, but this lacks even that.

I liked the concept of having a protagonist in a horror flick not behaving like a scared victim, but being more arrogant towards the superstitions. Yet this doesn’t get played up enough. The character’s egotistical side should’ve been stronger and thus making it fun watching the shit eventually get scared out of him.

Candy Clark’s character has the same issue. Initially she partners with Roberts as a fellow skeptic, but shifts into frightened mode too quickly. What should’ve helped differentiate the film from other horror movies by having characters not falling into the hapless victim trap  gets downplayed so badly that by the end it’s completely forgotten and they come off as cardboard caricatures.

There’s also no connection to the first two movies, which creates a lot of discrepancies. The famous red room in the basement, which had been such a big deal in the first installment, is none existent and instead the viewers get treated to some bottomless well from hell. The quarter shaped attic windows, which were the home’s signature trait, aren’t even present at least not from the side facing the road.

The special effects are tacky and the 3-D effects underused. I spent the majority of the time irritated at how slow it was. The buzzing insects are annoying and in the segment where one flies around in Candy Clark’s car you can clearly see that it is attached to a string.

The fact that this film received only a PG rating is a red flag as no self-respecting horror movie should ever accept anything less than an R-rating as it signifies that it hasn’t gone for the gusto, which this doesn’t. Seeing a young Meg Ryan in an early part may be worth it to some, but there’s nothing else to recommend.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD

Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes possessed.

A family moves into the infamous home at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York only to immediately start encountering paranormal events. Their eldest kid Sonny (Jack Magner) begins to display anti-social tendencies that eventually drive him to kill the entire family late one night. The family’s Priest Father Adamsky (James Olson) is convinced that Sonny did it because he was possessed from evil spirits that inhabit the home due to it being built on an ancient Indian burial ground and he takes it upon himself to perform an exorcism on the young man in order to free him of the demon.

The film is loosely based on the events of the DeFeo family, who lived at the residence, and was murdered by their eldest son on the night of November 13, 1974. However, the film deviates from what actually occurred including having the family just recently moved in when in reality the DeFeo’s had lived there for 9 years before they were killed. The film also portrays the family members as being awake and aware of what was going on when evidence had shown that most of them had been asleep when shot. There’s also a side-story dealing with a sexual relationship that Sonny had with his sister Patricia (Diane Franklin) that was only speculated never confirmed to have occurred with the real family.

This movie is only a slight improvement from the first one. Director Damiano Damiani manages to instill more of an atmosphere and uses fast moving tracking shots to create a point-of-view perspective of the demons. Also, James Olson plays the Priest role better than Steiger did in the first one by being less hammy and more understated, which is good.

Yet I still found the whole thing to be quite boring. The first half-hour is just a rehashing of many of the same scares that were done in the first one and we all know from the beginning how it’s all going to turn out, that the son will inevitably kill the family, so there’s no intrigue at all. The final half hour deals solely with the exorcism, which despite some decent special effects, is nothing more than a Grade B rip-off of The Exorcist.

There’s a lot of overacting too just like in the first one. Rutanya Alda, who plays the mother, is the biggest culprit in this area, which includes her death scene that deserves to be in the annals of all-time cheesiest death sequences ever put onto film. I was also confused why such an otherwise normal, well-adjust woman would want to marry a lout like Burt Young and having her show affection to him not more than a couple minutes after he had abused both her and the kids with a belt is misguided.

On the technical end the film seems to be done on a higher budget than the first, but the script is empty-headed and relies heavily on broad generalizations involving religion and ‘evil’. I also found it amusing that, like in the first installment, there’s a scene were the Priest tries to convince his church elders about the home being haunted and they scoff and insist that isn’t ‘rational’ when these same men have dedicated their lives to a profession steeped in supernatural, faith based claims.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Damiano Damiani

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video

The Amityville Horror (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their house is haunted.

Kathy and George Lutz (Margot Kidder, James Brolin) move into a large home that just a year earlier was the place of a gruesome homicide of six people. Though the idea of living where these murders occurred is unsettling they cannot beat the home’s price, so they take the offer. Soon there are bizarre occurrences and George begins to behave like he is becoming possessed convincing the young family that the place is haunted and they need to move out before it is too late.

The film is based on the Jay Anson novel, which was centered on the supposedly true events of the Lutz family who moved into a home known as ‘High Hopes’ that had previously been occupied by the DeFeos who were slaughtered at the hands of their oldest son Ronald in November of 1974. The Lutzs lived in the home from December of 1975 until they ‘abandoned’ it in January of 1976. Since that time many other people have lived there and none have reported any paranormal activity. The home, which was built in 1924, had no unusual events occur in it for the 50 years previous to the DeFeo tragedy either making me and many others speculate that the Lutzs made it all up because why else would they be subjected to the hauntings and none of the others.

(The actual house as it appeared in 1974)

In either case the movie isn’t very good and at many points is quite laughable. The film would’ve worked better had it been structured as a pseudo-documentary where interviews with the characters could’ve be spliced into the reenactments, which would’ve avoided it from seeming so mechanical and coming off like a formulaic scare-a-minute like it does here. The so-called frights are over-the-top from the start and there’s such a barrage of them that by the time you get to the finale, which should be the scariest point of the film, it becomes almost anti-climactic.

The overblown facial reactions of the actors had me laughing out loud at many spots particularly Brolin’s feeble attempts to channel a Charles Manson-like persona and Amy Wright getting locked in a closet. She plays a teen babysitter who walks around wearing one of those garish dental headgears and made me believe that the spirits locked her in there simply because they felt she looked too stupid. Kiddor’s constant shocked expressions at Brolin’s increasingly edgy responses becomes tiring and the part where Brolin shouts at the evil spirts that “This is my house!” had me thinking the spirits should’ve responded with “No it isn’t, it’s the banks!”

Rod Steiger’s priest impression is the Achilles heel. I realize there was a priest in the book, but since then that same priest as disputed the events described in the story, so it should’ve gotten downplayed. I didn’t like the supernatural events occurring outside of the home like when Steiger and Don Stroud are driving in their car and having it mysteriously breakdown. The house is the centerpiece and all scares should take place there otherwise it ceases to be a haunted house film at all and instead just another pedestrian story dealing with evil spirits that can manifest anywhere.

How some could find this scary is a mystery. I first watched it 30 years ago and thought it was tacky then and consider it even more so now. Just because it has managed to spawn a lot of sequels doesn’t make it ‘a classic’ and I feel it would be better suited for rifftrax of Mystery Science Theater.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region A/1, B/2) Amazon Video, YouTube

Cannonball Run II (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Too much lame humor.

Since the first installment of this franchise ended up taking in $72 million and becoming the 6th highest grossing film of 1981 the studio heads in their typical fashion decided to capitalize on it and squeeze as much breath out of the cornball concept as they could, which lead to this ill-advised sequel. As lame as the first one was this one is even worse and even less focused on racing.

The actual race, if you can call it that, doesn’t begin until 45 minutes in with the whole first half spent dealing with the silly backstories of how each ‘zany character’ decides to get back into the event, which is all very unnecessary and just an excuse to bombard the viewer with an onslaught of stupid gags that are on a kindergarten level. Once the race does get going it’s spent dealing with cartoonish stunts and then ends with a long drawn-out fight between the drivers and some gangsters, which makes it seem like it shouldn’t be called a racing movie at all.

Roger Ebert described the film as “one of the laziest insults to the intelligence of moviegoers that I can remember” and he’s right. Some silly humor is okay, but there needs to be another added element. For instance in The Gumball Rally, which wasn’t all that great, but still far better than this, there was the same silliness, but at least there was also one scene showing from a driver’s point-of-view a car speeding down the closed off streets of Park Avenue, which was that film’s best moment. In Paul Bartel’s Cannonball! you had a horrific car crash, which was controversial, but at least gave it some sort of edge. This film has no edge it’s just one-dimensional stupidity from the first frame to the last. The opening sequence is almost shot for shot the exact same as the one in the first installment, which shows how limited writer/director Hal Needham’s creative well likely was.

The only interesting aspect about it as with the first movie is the eclectic cast. Dean Martin for what it’s worth looks much more energized here than he did in the first one and Sammy Davis Jr. is quite funny and if they had built the film around him it would’ve been an improvement. It’s also fun seeing Richard Kiel playing a more normal type of person and not just a doofus giant caricature like he usually got stuck with. However, this installment also has Alex Rocco and Abe Vigoda playing gangsters who try various inane ways to stop Jamie Farr’s Arab character from winning, which makes the stunts in an old Wily E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons seem genuinely highbrow by comparison.

I was surprised to see Shirley MacLaine in this thing. She possibly took the part so she could reunite with her Rat Pack co-stars even though she never appears in any scene with them, but she had just gotten done winning the Academy Award for Terms of Endearment and it was like receiving all the accolades and prestige that comes with that award and then immediately throwing it all in the toilet by doing something that was completely beneath her talents. Her part is quite small and insignificant. Marilu Henner, who plays her partner as two out-of-work actresses disguised as nuns, comes off better and looks younger and prettier, which made me think Maclaine’s role could’ve been excised completely and simply combined with Henner’s.

What’s even more surprising is the presence of Reynolds. Back in 1982 he stated that he wasn’t going to do anymore ‘car chase movies’ and even turned down on an offer to star in Smokey and the Bandit III for that reason, so then why star in something that is just as bad or even worse. I think he can be a strong actor if given a good script and  I meet the man back in 1995 and shook hands with him during a book signing, so I don’t mean to seem overly harsh, but his brand became stigmatized by doing too many of these ‘good-ole’ boy’ productions and he was never able to recover. He had a brief renaissance with Boogie Nights, but that was about it. Starring in ‘Evening Shade’ doesn’t count because TV work is considered a downgrade from being in the movies and usually only taken when the movie roles dry up. The scene where he dresses up in a harem costume and pretends to be a female dancer is particularly demeaning and has to be considered an embarrassing career low point for any star that was once considered a male hunk.

Fortunately the audiences had wised up and after a strong opening weekend the film’s box office returns plummeted and it only ended up grossing $28 million, which was far less than the first one. This thankfully slowed up the need to make any more cannonball movies although in 1989 they made one more called Speed Zone, which because I’ve become very burnt out with these car racing flicks will be reviewed at a later time…a MUCH later time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 29, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Cannonball Run (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very stupid movie.

This film is based on the same real-life cross country race that also inspired The Gumball Rally and Cannonball, but unlike those two, which weren’t very good anyways; this movie doesn’t emphasize the race and doesn’t even get going with it until 35 minutes into the runtime. Instead the viewer gets treated to one lame, cornball gag after another making the already threadbare premise seem like only an afterthought.

The most surprising thing is that the screenplay was written by Brock Yates, who was the man who came up with the idea for the race back in 1971 and was participant in all 4 times that it ran. In fact both he and director Hal Needham took part in the 1979 race as driving partners using the very same ambulance that Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise use in the movie. The two pretended to be actual paramedics in order to avoid being stopped by cops when they sped. They even hired a medical doctor to ride along in back to make it seem more legit in case they did get pulled over and Yates’ wife was used as a pretend patient. They almost won it too out of 46 other participants that ran, but lost when their transmission conked out 50 miles from the finish line.

You would think if the script was written by someone who had actually driven in the race that he would’ve been able to offer more insight about the experience, but instead we get bombarded with ‘zany characters’ that are so outlandishly over-the-top that you feel embarrassed for the actors playing them.

The only interesting aspect is the eclectic cast that unfortunately, like with the movie, seem uninspired and going through the motions simply to collect a paycheck. Reynolds, who admitted in interviews to not liking the movie and having ‘sold-out’ simply for the salary, is especially lethargic. He’s not involved in much of the action and never even seen driving while wearing what looks like a wig and ultimately at the cusp of what would eventually be a major career downturn that he was never able to fully recover from.

Supporting players seem almost exploited particularly Jack Elam whose real-life handicap gets used to make his character seem ‘crazy’. Back when he was a child he got into a fight with another kid at a Boy Scout meeting and his left eye was poked with a pencil, causing him to lose his sight with it and giving him a perennial ‘lazy-eye’ that never moved in tandem with his right one. To help make this less pronounced he grew a mustache and beard, but here that gets shaved off making his weird gaze more pronounced, but the ‘crazy look’ gag is a boring one-joke that gets way overplayed.

Dean Martin, in his first movie in 6 years, looks old and washed-up. His Rat Pack partner Sammy Davis Jr. is also on-hand, but is much more energetic and into it while Martin walks around constantly with a drink in hand and looking ready for the grave.

The only member of the cast that comes off well is Farrah Fawcett who was at her all-time hottest and is just cute enough to keep the film passable, but the rest of it is worthless. Silly humor is okay as long as other elements are wrapped around it, but this thing has nothing else to offer. It’s just one stupid comedy bit after another that will prove too moronic for even those with a low bar.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Circle of Power (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Weekend retreat becomes brutal.

Executives of a company spend a weekend at a hotel where they’re a part of a large group awareness training that will better prepare them to achieve their full potential in both their business and personal lives. The encounter group is headed by Bianca Ray (Yvette Mimieux) who implements disturbing activities for the participants to go through that become increasingly more abusive and degrading.

This film is based off of the non-fiction novel ‘The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled’ by Gene Church which documented a 1972 four day encounter group of top executives from the Holiday Magic company and many of the outrageous activities they were required to go through all under the cloak of learning to ‘bring out their inner dynamic’. Many of the activities that the characters in the film are forced to perform are similar to the ones depicted in the book, but amped up for the sake of drama. Some definitely get disturbing including having one participant, played by Walter Olkewicz, forced to strip naked in front of the group and then told to stand on a chair while the others mock his overweight body before having him locked into a cage and feed scraps of food that he must eat up directly from the floor.

Unfortunately the shock value gets muted by having characters that are too cardboard.  The viewer ultimately has no emotional bond to any of them and therefore the increasingly degrading circumstances that they go through achieve no profound impact. It also happens much too quickly as right from the start they are asked to do crazy things. I have no doubt that these encounter groups can sometimes go too far and there have been documented evidence of some even resulting in deaths, but it occurs gradually. A level of trust needs to be achieved to the point that the participants let down their guard and then the darker and twisted stuff gets introduced instead of just having it from the beginning like it gets played here, before any of the people have been psychologically ‘neutered’.

There is also no background given, or at least not a sufficient one, to the people who run the encounter group who are portrayed in a very one dimensional, creepy way that quickly becomes boring.  The issues of how did they decided to get into this line of work and what makes them so brazen to think they can get people to do these outrageous acts and get away with it is never addressed.

The ending is limp. What happens to the employees once they return to work is never captured nor the fate of the people running the retreat and whether they were ever sued or arrested. The idea is an intriguing one and there’s a potential for a really interesting movie to be had, but the plot needed more context and the characters to be better fleshed out.

Alternate Titles: Brainwash, Mystique, Naked Weekend

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bobby Roth

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: VHS