Category Archives: Movies Based on Stageplays

Born to Win (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Junkie needs his fix.

J.J. (George Segal) is a former hairdresser now residing on the streets due to his heroin addiction. To help pay for his expensive habits he agrees to transport drugs for Vivian ( Hector Elizondo) which gets him into deeper trouble with the criminal underworld. Eventually two cops (Ed Madsen, Robert De Niro) catch up with him and agree to strike a deal, which will allow him to avoid jail time if he agrees to turn Vivian and his cohorts in. J.J. though is more concerned with getting his next fix and nothing else matters not even the hot young chick Parm (Karen Black) who he has just moved in with.

There were many 70’s films, some might say too many, dealing with the drug addiction theme. Some were quite compelling while most of the others were highly clichéd. This one though takes a slightly different angle by injecting comedy into the proceedings and surprisingly it works. J.J.’s conversation with an older woman cashier (Sylvia Syms) about enemas, which he does in order to distract her from seeing his buddies stealing the company’s safe, is quite amusing. The best part though is when J.J. is stripped naked and forced to wear nothing but a woman’s bathrobe and then when he’s held prisoner in an apartment bedroom he flashes a young woman from across the street in order to get her attention to call the cops, but instead she proceeds to just flash him back, which is a laugh-out-loud moment especially when the viewer later gets to see Segal running down the city’s streets in the pink bathrobe with startled pedestrians looking on.

The film though fails when it tries to get serious. The dramatic moment where J.J.’s friend Billy (Jay Fletcher) takes some corrupted heroin and it kills him gets botched. Maybe it’s just me as I’ve seen many movies, but I could tell where this scene was headed right from the start and the intended ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ of it instead becomes boring and overly played-out.

Karen Black’s presence helps. Her character is quite goofy to the point that she gets turned-on by J.J. when she catches him trying to steal her car and even invites him back to her place afterwards. Normally this behavior would be considered too wacky to be believable, but Black’s ability to channel her inner freak gives the whole thing an authentic feel and her later conversations dealing with how many men she has slept with is a gem as well.

Segal’s performance is solid, but we never effectively get inside his character’s head. The film would’ve been far stronger had we seen what his life was like before he became an addict and the jarring contrast in his lifestyles could’ve made for a powerful statement, which unfortunately is lacking. We also never get to see him actually putting the needle into his arm. We see at one point the needle marks in his skin, but seeing him taking the drug would’ve hit the message home visually.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is frustrating as he is given a bag of heroin that he knows may be tainted and ultimately will kill him if he takes it and yet it is left wide open as to whether he tries it or not. The idea that someone would be so strung out to get a high that they would knowingly take something that they knew could instantly kill them is an intriguing quandary that needed to be answered and the fact that it doesn’t is why this film despite a few good moments ultimately misses-the-mark.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Passer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Only When I Laugh (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress is an alcoholic.

Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has just been released from a 12-week alcohol rehab program and returns to her Manhattan apartment looking to readjust to civilian life with the help of her two friends; Jimmy (James Coco) a gay unemployed actor and Toby (Joan Hackett) a woman unhappy at turning middle-aged. To Georgia’s surprise Polly (Kristy McNichol) her 17 year-old-daughter shows up wanting to move in with her and ‘patch things up’ from their tumultuous past. Georgia isn’t sure she’s emotionally ready, but forges ahead and things start out okay, but then the demons from the past rear their ugly head forcing mother and daughter to face some harsh realities both about themselves and each other.

The film is based on Neil Simon’s Broadway play ‘The Gingerbread Lady’ that starred Maureen Stapleton and ran for 193 performances. It was not considered a success and when adapted to a film Simon made changes to the story, but to me it all seemed like every other Neil Simon dramedy that he’s done before. Both this film and The Goodbye Girl that also starred Mason featured male characters that were struggling to become professional actors. Both this film and Chapter Two, which again starred Mason, had characters who were playwrights going through writer’s block. His films always take place in New York and have characters who see analysts, and can apparently make enough to afford them. I realize there’s the old adage ‘write what you know’ and that’s exactly what Simon is doing, but it would be nice if he’d get a little bit out of his comfort zone as nothing that gets shown here seems fresh or original.

The first hour is way too serene and I would’ve expected much more of a frosty relationship between mother and daughter, but instead for the most part they get along great, at least initially. There are some passing references to previous drama, but I felt this should’ve been shown and not just talked about. The second half improves significantly with some strong scenes, but I’m afraid that with such a lifeless beginning most viewers will have fallen asleep before it even gets there.

McNichol is excellent and every bit Mason’s equal, but this exposes another of Simon’s weaknesses, which is that although he’s good at writing character parts for adults he seems unable to do so for anyone younger. In The Goodbye Girl the Quinn Cummings character seemed too infantile for a 10-year-old and here McNichol is more like a 20-something and the intended mother-daughter drama more like just two girlfriends rooming together.

Coco and Hackett are excellent and help hold things together and the movie does manage to deliver, at least in the second-half, but I couldn’t help but feel that Simon had gone to this well too often and was starting to lose his edge. You can also spot young Kevin Bacon as a college dude trying to pick and Mason and McNichol as they eat at a café.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours

Rated R

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available:  DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Switching Channels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter shields convicted killer.

Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) is a dedicated news reporter working at a satellite news network who decides to take a much needed vacation. On her trip she meets the dashing and very rich Blane Bingham (Christopher Reeve). The two hit-it-off and decide to get married, but when she informs her ex-husband John (Burt Reynolds), who just so happens to also be here employer, he does everything he can to prevent the marriage from happening. Part of his scheme is to get her so involved in covering the impending execution of Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) that she won’t have time for Blaine, but when the execution goes awry and allows Ike to escape Christy agrees to shield him from the authorities.

The story is based off of the very famous Broadway play ‘The Front Page’ that was first performed in 1928 and has been remade into a cinematic film (not including the TV-movie versions) three different times before this one. The first was in 1931 and the second in 1942 with His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which was probably the best version, and then in 1974 director Billy Wilder took a stab at the story that starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

Why it was felt that this story needed to be done again is a mystery as this version is by far the weakest and hardly funny at all. The premise itself is solid, but structured in a way that makes it come off as an unfocused mess. It starts out as this sort of romantic love triangle scenario then jarringly shifts into the execution until it seems like two entirely different movies crammed into one. None of the original dialogue from the play was retained making the attempted banter here benign and uninteresting.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen the three other versions, which I found to be highly entertaining and funny, but this one is dizzying and confusing instead. As I remember the other versions kept the focus solely on the three leads and had them remain in the same setting with the action basically coming to them. Here it gets diluted with the characters prancing around to too many different places with their presence getting minimized by gargantuan, overly colorful sets that swallow up both the actors and story.

Reeve is excellent in what I consider his best role outside of Superman. Reynolds though looks uncomfortable in an ensemble-type comedy structure and he shares absolutely no chemistry with Turner with behind-the-scene reports saying that the two couldn’t get along at all. It’s almost like they cast the parts based solely on the name recognition of the stars over whether they were truly right for the parts.

Turner had already lost her youthful appeal here that had made her so sexy in Body Heat that had just been done 7 years earlier.  She comes off as more middle-aged and frumpy and not at all the type of woman two guys would fight over. I admire her attempts at expanding her acting range by taking a stab at frantic comedy, but her constant breathless delivery becomes tiresome and redundant.

The entire production gets overblown. Director Ted Kotcheff’s attempts to make the story more cinematic ends up draining it of the amusing subtle nuances that made it so special when it was done onstage. Switching channels is indeed an appropriate title for this because if it were shown on TV I would be pressing the remote to a different station.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 4, 1988

Runtime: 1hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dad fucks the babysitters.

Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes) are two friends from high school who babysit for Bob (George Costigan) and his wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp). One night while Bob is taking the two babysitters home in his car he decides to make a sexual overture to them and they both enthusiastically reciprocate, which ends up turning into a mini sex orgy. Soon the three are routinely getting together for sexual trysts until Michelle eventually catches on and leaves Bob while taking the kids with her. Sue’s parents find out too, which causes a great deal of stress and infighting amongst the three.

This offbeat comedy unexpectedly became a big worldwide cult hit that made stars of the three leads particularly the two women whose first film this was. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the film’s director Alan Clarke or its writer Andrea Dunbar who both tragically died just 3 years after the film’s release. Clarke from cancer while Dunbar, who was living on welfare and an alcoholic, passed away at her local pub at only 29 years of age.

The film comes off as an odd mix of lighthearted comedy and gritty drama that doesn’t completely work. The story jumps from the upscale middle class neighborhood of Bob’s house to the abject poverty of Sue and Rita’s family life with their apartments so vividly rundown that it’s almost horrifying to imagine anyone could live in such squalor. Part of the reason for this shift is that the film was based on two of Dunbar’s plays, the first being ‘The Arbor’, which was an autobiographical story of her growing up in the slums and at the hands of an abusive father, which she wrote at the age of 15 as a class project, and the other on a later play that she wrote with the same title as the film.

Why director Clarke choose to mix the two plays together into one film I’m not sure. Maybe he thought it would give the story more substance, but it really doesn’t. The antics that go on here could’ve happened in any neighborhood and income bracket making the stark, dramatic scenes of the girl’s sad home life seem inconsequential and meandering.

I didn’t like the film’s abrupt start either as it jumps almost immediately to the three getting-it-on inside the car without any backstory. I kept wondering when did Bob get the idea to make a pass at the two girls and why are the girls so unsurprised when he does? I would think most young women would be shocked when an older man that they babysit for would suddenly make an aggressive sexual come-on and yet here these two aren’t, but why? What sort of signals were the two sending out to Bob to make him feel that he could behave the way he does? Was he already getting ideas when they first came to babysit for him, or did it evolve later? These questions and scenarios never get shown or answered, but should’ve.

We also never see Rita and Sue interacting with the children. The scenes involving their babysitting shows them either sitting watching TV or stuffing their faces with snacks after raiding Bob’s refrigerator while the two children remain complete afterthoughts that are only shown briefly for a few seconds at the 54 minute mark and that’s it, which then brings me to another crucial question. Why is it necessary to hire two babysitters to watch over two kids? When I was younger and babysat I could easily watch my neighbor’s two kids without any help. When I was a child only one babysitter was hired to look after me and my two siblings. Hiring two teen girls to look after two kids is highly impractical and quite unusual to the point that it makes no sense.

The ending leaves open a lot of questions making the film seem almost like an incomplete treatment to a wider story. For instance the three end up moving in together without showing whether this unusual living arrangement would be able to sustain itself long term. I was also curious to see how Bob would explain this arrangement to his children when they came to visit. There is also a side-story dealing with Sue’s relationship with a Pakistani boyfriend (Kulvinder Ghir) that seemed better suited for another movie altogether.

The scenes involving the three inside the car are the funniest, but otherwise I’m not sure why this movie became the hit that it did.  There’s also too many tracking shots almost like director Clarke found himself a new toy that he couldn’t help playing with. Initially the constantly moving camera comes off as innovative and gives the film added energy, but it ends up getting overdone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Clarke

Studio: Film Four International

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Star Spangled Girl (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Norman obsesses over Amy.

This film is based on a Neil Simon play, which despite his tremendous success on Broadway became his only critical and commercial failure and was inspired by a political conversation/debate he overhead at a bar between writer Paddy Chayefsky and a very conservative housewife. The plot here deals with Amy (Sandy Duncan) a very old-fashioned young lady from rural America who moves to the big city of L.A. and meets up with two young men named Andy and Norman (Tony Roberts, Todd Susman) who publish an underground newspaper expounding radical/liberal ideas. Norman immediately falls for Amy and becomes so obsessed with her that he can no longer concentrate on writing for the paper. In order to allow the paper to meet its deadline Andy convinces Amy to come work for them to act as a muse for Norman, but Amy resists as she not only doesn’t agree with the paper’s politics, but she can’t stand Norman either.

The film’s biggest downfall is that it never touches on the political element. Had there been some substance, it might’ve worked, but the political issues are completely glossed over in the broadest way imaginable. The film really isn’t aimed for young adults anyways, but instead romantic diehards in need of an old-fashioned sugary romance where love somehow solves all problems, even when the two sides are at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum, making this thing severely contrived and dated even for its own era.

Roberts, who was already over 30 at the time, was too old for the role as the college kids of the day, who were the true radicals, felt anyone over 30 was the ‘enemy’ and a part of the ‘establishment’. The two men should’ve had long hair, beards, love beads and joints. Outside of one hanging picture showing the peace sign, their home decorations don’t look much different from a family home in Kansas and true radical guys from that era would’ve had posters on their walls of rock groups, naked women, Woodstock and maybe even Timothy Leary.

The Norman character is quite annoying and the way he obsesses over Amy by going through her garbage each day and following her around would get him pegged as a stalker and in serious trouble these days. What’s intended as a humorous take on a ‘love smitten guy’ is done so broadly that it gets dumb quick and eventually comes off like a mentally ill looney in serious need of some meds.

Sandy Duncan, who resembles an elf with a high pitched-voice, isn’t exactly the kind of gal that a guy suddenly goes ga-ga over anyways and it would’ve made more sense had Ali MacGraw or Cybill Shepherd been cast instead as they were more the conventional type of beauty that guys would normally get excited about. Unfortunately they both declined the role after being offered it. Having Norman get so excessively aroused over Amy simply because of the way she ‘smelled’ is pretty pathetic and equates love/romance to mindless urges controlled by animalistic scents similar to that of rodents attracted to the odor of rotted food in a dumpster.

Saying this film would’ve been better suited for an episode of ‘Love American Style’ which was a weekly anthology series that aired during the early ‘70s and focused on cute, comical love stories is not that far off-the-mark since the film was co-written by Arnold Margolin who was that show’s producer. The film even has a similar garishly colorful opening with background vocals sung by Davy Jones.

Overall it’s an embarrassing waste of celluloid with no bearing in reality whatsoever. Elizabeth Allen can be spotted briefly as the landlady wearing an ill-advised blond wig with ponytails that makes her look like the blonde lady seen on the Swiss Miss cocoa products. She never says a single word and is basically just on-hand to force the two men do go with her on all sorts of daring stunts, like parachuting, in order to help pay the rent since they lack the necessary monetary funds otherwise, which like everything else in the movie is just forced humor at its worst.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Director: Jerry Paris

Rated G

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Extremities (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She traps her attacker.

Marjorie (Farrah Fawcett) decides to grab a snack late one night at a convenience store. Since she plans on being in the store for only a minute she neglects to lock her car, which is enough time for her would-be rapist Joe (James Russo) to sneak into the vehicle and hide in the backseat. When she returns he attacks her, but she is able to break free and runs out. Unfortunately she leaves her purse behind and he’s able to find her address from her driver’s license. A few weeks later he attempts to attacker her again at her home, but she fights back and is able to turn-the-tables on him by tying him up and trapping him in her fireplace. She then plans on killing him by burying him in her backyard as she’s afraid she won’t get a fair trial, but when her roommates (Alfre Woodard, Diana Scarwid) return home from work they try to convince her otherwise.

The film is based on the 1982 off-Broadway play written by William Mastrosimone and starring Susan Sarandon, who eventually got replaced by Fawcett and then later by Lauren Hutton when the play opened in Los Angeles. The play was notorious for its intense violence where the stars would routinely get injured while going through the motions of their parts and audience members would become so upset by it that they would sometimes storm the stage in an attempt to protect the actress. The stage version is also different from the film one in that it doesn’t show the backstory, but instead starts right away with the Marjorie being attacked in the home and then the later aftermath.

The film was directed by Robert M. Young, whose best known effort previously was his film version of the stage play Short Eyes about a child molesters experiences inside a harsh prison. While that film was excellent this one isn’t as he approaches it too much like it’s a thriller with way too much loud, pounding music getting played when Joe attacks Marjorie inside the house, which actually takes the viewer out of the scene. The approach should’ve been more on the gritty drama side with no music and a handheld camera used to capture the action, which would’ve given the viewer a voyeuristic feeling like they are watching this from some hidden camera.

The scene where Marjorie ties up her killer and then hops into her car to go to the police only to have the vehicle mysteriously not start is ridiculous. This cliché has been used in movies way too many times and should be outlawed forever. Had she been in a cold climate we could’ve attributed it to the weather, but she wasn’t. Or if it had been mentioned earlier that her car has had problems starting then it might’ve worked better, but having it conk-out for no reason when it drove just fine before is a total cop-out and a sign of weak writing.

I was also disappointed that no backstory is given to James Russo’s character. Earlier in the film we are shown that he is actually a family man with a daughter, so I was intrigued to see what drove him to have this Jekyll and Hyde personality and how being a father and husband he could justify what he does and yet no explanation is ever even touched on, which I found highly disappointing.

Fawcett is good particularly with her big blue, expressive eyes. I also enjoyed Scarwid’s nervous persona and how she becomes torn at how to approach the dilemma at hand. The conversations between the three women are strong and should’ve been extended, but the film as a whole misses-the-mark and isn’t as penetrating, or groundbreaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert M. Young

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Cactus Flower (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be married.

Julian (Walter Matthau) is a dentist who enjoys duping the women he sees into believing that he is married, so he can have the benefit of fooling around with them without the commitment (a sort of ‘friends-with-benefits’ scenario before it became in vogue). Problem is that his most recent girlfriend Toni (Goldie Hawn) wants to get married and threatens to kill herself unless he divorces his wife. Julian readily agrees, but Toni wants to meet his wife first, so he gets Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman) who works as his receptionist to pretend to be his wife. Things though don’t go smoothly as Stephanie has feelings for Julian and Toni realizes this, which makes her reluctant about pursuing her marriage plans with him.

The film is based on the hit Broadway play by Abe Burrows, which in-turn was based on a French play by Pierre Barillet. The plot may sound funny, but it’s actually rather dumb. There’s plenty of men who pretend not to be married when they are in order to have the excuse to fool-around and they’re women who pretend to be married when they really aren’t in an effort to ward off a guy who’s hitting on them, but a guy pretending he’s married to get women to go to bed with him seems pretty strange and I really didn’t get the logic. From his perspective I get it, sex without-the-strings, but what exactly is the woman getting out of it?

Had Toni been using Julian just like he was using her it would’ve made more sense by having her get into the relationship to benefit off of the money he was willing to spend on her, but Toni actually wanted commitment and marriage! Besides that why is she suddenly so concerned about the wife’s feelings now as she’d been having a relationship with Julian for a whole year before and not worried about it then?

There’s also the issue of why this swinging bachelor who’s commitment-phobic already is going to want to get tied-down by a ditzy lady who threatens suicide every time she doesn’t get what she wants. Better for him to dump her now and find some other chick to dupe.

I had problems with Bergman’s character too. For one thing I wanted to see more of a character arc. Having her portrayed as a sexually oppressed, cold, bitchy lady at the start who only softens at the very end once she finally finds ‘true love’ would’ve been more dramatic, but Bergman plays the part too nicely and the bitchy side gets underplayed. Lauren Bacall originated the part on Broadway and I was surprised she was that she wasn’t given the opportunity to reprise the role for the film because if there is one woman who can play a bitch to perfection it’s her.

Gene Saks’ lifeless direction is another detriment. The sets are dreary and unimaginative. The scene at the club is boring because the place has no pizazz. This was the late ‘60s and they should’ve attended some far-out psychedelic place with heavy rock music and people strung-out on acid. Toni could’ve felt comfortable being there while Julian and Stephanie wouldn’t be. This then would’ve given the opportunity to focus on the generational gap between the two as Julian was 25 years older than Toni, but the film really never touches on that.

Hawn’s Academy Award winning performance is excellent especially the close-up shot where her big blue eyes well up and a single tear trickles down her face. The scene at the club where Bergman comes up with ‘the dentist dance’ that everyone else imitates is funny. Otherwise the trite plot is too superficial to be either believable or interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Gene Saks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Midnight Lace (1960)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody is stalking her.

Kit Preston (Doris Day) is an American who has just recently married Anthony (Rex Harrison) and moved with him to London. Shortly after her move she begins receiving phone calls from a man who speaks in a strange sounding voice and who threatens her bodily harm. When she goes to the police about it they’re not helpful and soon both her husband and friends begin to question her sanity and whether she is simply making the whole thing up.

The film is based on the stage play ‘Mathilda Shouted Fire’ by Janet Green and for the most part is well-done. I enjoyed the glossiness of it particularly the sumptuous interior design of the large home they lived in. So many times movies with this type of theme are given the low budget treatment, so it’s nice to have one done more on the highbrow level.

The pace is slow and there’s way more talking than action, but I still found myself intrigued. The voice of the stalker though could’ve been done better. I guess it’s nice not having it conform to the stereotype of a madman by having his voice deep and menacing, but this guy sounds like a cartoon character and it’s unintentionally funny. The set-up could’ve also been improved as it starts out right away with her being threatened by him in a park that seems a bit surreal and confusing since we know nothing about this character and a previous backstory would’ve helped.

The villain’s ultimate identity may surprise some, but the film tries so hard to throw in these red herrings to make you think it’s all these other people that a truly savvy viewer will start to consider the one that seems to be the least likely. The plot logistics aren’t particularly well thought out either, but this is clearly not something you’re expected to think about too hard anyways.

The film’s main selling point is Day who’s tremendous. This was a big stretch for her, but she comes away in impressive fashion. She vowed afterwards that she would never do another thriller because it was too emotionally draining and I felt emotional drained just watching her. What I liked is that instead of screaming when she panics she breaks out into a teary-eyed wail that makes her seem quite helpless, but still endearing. She stated that during the filming of these scenes she would think back to the real-life abuse that she suffered from her first husband, which makes her emotions genuine and raw and manages to strongly connect with the audience.

My only quibble and this was probably more the fault of the screenwriter than hers, is when her husband is struggling to fight off the bad guy and all she does is stand there and whimper. This was most likely a product of the era where women were expected to be more ‘dainty’ and not get involved in physical altercations, but when a guy is trying all he can to save his life and hers he might appreciate her offering him some assistance.

There’s another scene where she gets stuck in an elevator that is a bit botched too because in her attempt to sound like a hysterical women she comes off more like a gal having a weird orgasm, but overall she’s great. It might even be her best performance as she far outshines Harrison who looks too old to be her husband and wasn’t a good fit at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1960

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD

Americathon (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Time for a telethon.

The year is 1998 and the nation is suffering from an oil shortage, which forces everyone to get around using bikes and roller skates while cars are now nothing more than immobile objects lived in by those with little money. Due to the energy crisis President Jimmy Carter and his administration are lynched by an angry mob and replaced by a young, new-wave type politician named Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter). Chet’s first order is finding a way to save the country from bankruptcy and he decides to do it by broadcasting a national telethon hosted by B-celebrity Monty Rushmore (Harvey Korman).

The film is based on a skit done by The Firesign Theatre, which was a popular satirical group that poked fun of the politics and issues of the day by performing live action stories with a stream of consciousness narrative. The group was made up of four men who wrote all of their material together and no line of dialogue, or joke was allowed to be included in their scripts unless all four of them agreed on it.

While much of what they did was original and cutting edge this movie fails to capitalize on it. I was confused as to what the intended focus of the parody was supposed to be on. It seemed to be aiming for light satire, but the references and potshots that it does take in connection to politics, television and celebrities are quite sterile and the film is in desperate need of more edginess.

The pacing is also quite poor. The characters are nothing more than broad caricatures and the plot too over-the-top to take seriously, so the emphasizes is clearly on the humor, but the jokes needed a rapid-fire delivery like in Airplane to work instead of gags that are so subtle and drawn out that you barely even notice them.

The casting is off too. John Ritter is an engaging actor, but here he displays no energy at all and comes off like he’s been tranquilized with some sort of drug. Harvey Korman is talented in a sketch comedy setting, but annoying as a lead. The film seems to be aiming for the college crowd and 20-somethings, so why cast someone like Korman, who was in his 50’s at the time, and considered completely out-of-touch with that generation?

I did like Peter Riegert, who is appealing simply because he plays the only normal person in the cast, which should’ve been enough reason to give him the most screen time, which he doesn’t get, in order to help offset the misplaced ‘zaniness’ around him. I was also confused why George Carlin narrates the film instead of Riegert since he seems to be speaking through Riegert’s character.

Out of the entire runtime there are only two segments that are actually semi-funny. One includes a bit where Meat Loaf takes on a driverless car and defeats it like a matador battling a bull. Jay Leno plays a fighter in another segment who takes part in a boxing match against his own mother who continually taunts him by calling him ‘poopy butt’. Unfortunately everything else falls flat and nothing is worse than a comedy that thinks it’s being ‘hip’ and ‘edgy’ when it really isn’t.

Strangely both IMDB and Wikipedia list Cybill Shepherd in an uncredited role as the ‘Gold Girl’, which is very brief. Although the woman playing the part certainly looks and sounds a bit like Cybill I’m convinced that it really wasn’t her.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Neil Israel

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

That Championship Season (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their reunion turns sour.

On the 25th anniversary of when they won the state high school basketball championship four members of the team get together with their coach (Robert Mitchum) to celebrate. George (Bruce Dern) who made the winning shot is now the town’s mayor and up for reelection. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal while his younger brother Tom (Martin Sheen) has become a vagabond alcoholic. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is the most successful of the group even though his business methods aren’t always ethical. It’s his revelation that he has had an affair with George’s wife that sends the gathering into a freefall where long dormant secrets from all the members slowly come to the surface.

The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, best known for playing Father Karras in The Exorcist, and the play version, which he also wrote won him the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the rave reviews of the play I was genuinely shocked how lifeless and boring the film is. It takes 35 minutes before any real conflict is introduced and once it does it’s all very contrived. The opening half-hour is nice as it was filmed on-location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was Miller’s hometown, but the second half is done completely inside one home, which makes it very stagey. Flashback sequences were done to help make it more cinematic, but unwisely cut by the film’s producer.

The plot thread dealing with Sorvino’s character having an affair with Dern’s wife seemed so utterly contrived that I literally had to roll my eyes when it gets brought up. It’s almost like they had to throw in something to keep it interesting so why not just make it the oldest, most clichéd soap opera-like thing they could think of. What’s worse is we never see this woman in question despite her being the catalyst for all the drama nor any explanation of where she is or what she is doing.

The acting is good for the most part, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing even 2 points, but at times the performers have trouble rising above the melodramatic material including the scene where Keach tries to put on a cry while describing his mistreatment by his father, which sounds very fake and unintentionally laughable.

Sorvino walks around with jet black hair except for a big white patch on the back of his head, which is distracting and gets shown a lot, but never mentioned by any of the other characters. I’ve never seen anyone with that condition, except for someone who intentionally highlighted it like that and even so I don’t think that was the case here. The producers should’ve had that spot dyed black like the rest of his hair to avoid the distraction, or had one of the other characters joke about it in passing, so the viewer didn’t have to keep wondering why they are the only ones seeing it and nobody else was.

The final scene where the men listen to a tape of when their team scored the winning shot, which brings tears to their eyes, is the only segment that rings true and hits home how high school for some people can be the highlights of their whole lives and everything afterwards is all downhill. The rest of the movie though is an exercise in boredom and filled with sterile characters dealing with generic issues.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jason Miller

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD