Category Archives: Mystery

The Entity (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Invisible mass attacks mother.

Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother living with her three children who finds herself attacked one night in her home by an invisible being who proceeds to viciously rape her. When she tells this to her psychiatrist (Ron Silver) he initially doesn’t believe her, so she employs the help of two parapsychologists (Raymond Singer, Richard Brestoff) who come to her home and record the paranormal activity. With the help of Dr. Cooley (Jacqueline Brookes) who heads their department, they build a life-sized replica of Carla’s home in a gymnasium complete with liquid helium, which they hope to use on the mysterious entity in order to trap it.

The ghostly attacks aren’t impressive and consist mainly of seeing close-ups of Hershey’s face being rammed against the wall, or bedsheets, flying glass, shaking furniture and a musical sound effect reminiscent of a hammer rhythmically pounding against a sheet of metal. The attack scenes quickly become redundant and the ghostly presence is never seen, which eventually makes them yawn inducing whenever they occur. There are also many long dramatic interludes between the attempted scares that try to put a psychological spin on the proceedings, but come off more like pop psychology instead.

The whole thing is inspired by an actual incident which occurred on August 22, 1974, but incorrectly stated as happening in October, 1976 during the film’s denouncement. In the real-life case a woman by the name of Doris Bither (1942-1999) met two parapsychologists named Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor while visiting a local library and told them of her repeated rapes inside her home by three ghosts who she considered to be of an Asian descent. She invited the men to her small Culver City, California home, which they found to be extremely cramped and dirty. During the event the men felt some unusual sensations and saw colorful orbs fly through the air, which was enough to inspire Frank De Felitta to write a novel about it, which later lead to this movie.

The film though would’ve worked better had the initial setting been Carla’s visit to her psychiatrist and then everything else played out in small segments as a flashback while she described her encounter. There was much speculation that these things were all just inside Bither’s head since she had suffered from substance abuse and a traumatic upbringing, but none of that gets touched upon in the movie. Instead we are left to believe that these strange occurrences are actually happening, but the film would’ve been more multi-dimensional had the viewer been allowed to question whether it was real, or simply an effect of mental illness.

Hershey gives a fine performance and shows what a great actress she is by playing a character that was completely opposite from the carefree/hippie-like ones that she played during her film appearances of the ‘70s. Silver though is annoying as the psychiatrist as his character unwisely gets too involved with his patient even though most other doctors in his position would be convinced that the woman was bat-shit crazy and keep themselves at an emotional distance from her. His attempts at trying to talk her out of going through with the experiment done at the gymnasium is irritating as it does nothing but hold up the story while failing to add an interesting dramatic tension.

The film’s freakiest aspect are the moments where Hershey’s bare breasts, in an attempt to show them being molested by the invisible hand of the ghost, start to ripple and show indentations seemingly on their own. How they were able to pull this off since this was well before visual computerized effects I’m not sure, but it is impressive and some may find it even strangely erotic.

On the whole though the film is frustrating as never explains why any of this occurs. The cause of the actual incident remains murky even though most would say that the woman was just looney, but since this film has already taken liberties with the real-life event why not at least throw in some sort of halfway plausible theory as nothing is worse than sitting through an overlong film that puts out many intriguing questions, but fails to supply them with any tangible answers.

(The Culver City, California home where the events that inspired this movie purportedly took place.)

(An actual photograph taken during the August 22, 1974 encounter.)

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1983

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Studio: American Cinema Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Death on the Nile (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder on the river.

Based on the 1937 Agatha Christie novel of the same name the story centers around everyone’s favorite Belgium sleuth Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he tries solve a murder that occurs while he is traveling on a steamer going down the famous Nile River.

The on-location shooting in Egypt is the film’s chief asset. The scene where actors Simon MacCorkindale and Lois Chiles climb to the outer top of a pyramid is impressive as in the extended scene inside the Karnak Temple Complex. However, outside of this the visuals are blah and this entry fails to show the same cinematic flair done 4 years earlier of another Christie novel that was brought to the big screen Murder on the Orient Express.

I was also not too impressed with the steamer that was used to cart the characters down the river as it appeared to be too small and not at all luxurious. The fact that the production crew took a real steamer that they had found and then painstakingly recreated it to a minute detail inside the Pinewood studios in London is certainly commendable, but I felt the insides of the cabins were too big and too fancy and not in proportion to the actual boat that we see from the exterior, which looked like nothing more than a cheap, mid-sized thing that could be rented by a small family at a modest price for an afternoon on the lake.

The story itself takes too long to get going and in fact the murder and actual mystery doesn’t occur until 1 hour and 10 minutes in. Mia Farrow gives a provocative performance and it’s interesting seeing how things were before there were anti-stalking laws and people could simply follow around those that they hated, which is what the Farrow character does here, and harass the hell out of them without any fear of breaking any penalty, but the set-up gets too played out. The supporting cardboard characters are dull and put in simply to heighten the mystery with their own motives for wanting to kill the victim, which comes off as formulaic.

The ultimate denouncement isn’t too great either. I never read the book, so I don’t know how closely this follows it, but the explanation for how the killing is done hinged too much on careful split-second timing that I don’t think anyone would’ve been able to actually accomplish nor even want to risk trying. Also, the evidence that Poirot uses to solve the crime is threadbare and circumstantial to the extreme and if the killer’s hadn’t ultimately cracked under pressure I’m not so sure they would’ve been convicted.

The cast of big name stars is wasted and only Angela Lansbury is entertaining as the alcoholic erotic novelist, but even here her drunken condition gets overplayed as we never ever see her sober making it seem almost like she suffers from a degenerative disease like cerebral palsy. Ustinov is no fun as Poirot and Albert Finney was far better as he played the same character in a more lovable and amusingly eccentric way. He was asked to reprise the role, which he played in Murder on the Orient Express, but due to the unpleasant grind of having to wear a lot of makeup for the part he ended up declining.

If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or enjoy mysteries then you may take to this a bit more. It’s still watchable and even marginally engrossing; however despite the excellent cast and splashy production values the ultimate effect is flat.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 29, 1978

Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD

Man on a Swing (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychic knows too much.

On one sunny afternoon Maggie Dawson (Dianne Hull) goes out shopping and never returns. 24-hours later her strangled body is found on the floor of her car. Police detective Lee Tucker (Cliff Robertson) heads the case, but finds few clues. After all leads dry up they turn to Franklin Wills (Joel Grey) who purports to be a psychic who can help them find the culprit. Initially the police are quite impressed with his abilities, but Franklin begins to show too much knowledge about the crime and the victim making them believe that he may be the actual killer.

The film is based on the novel ‘The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor’ by William A. Clark, which itself is based on an actual incident that occurred on June 12, 1968 in Kettering, Ohio. In the real-life event a young 23-year-old school teacher by the name of Barbara Ann Butler went shopping at a discount store one day only to end up being found murdered later. Police were, like in the movie, baffled and eventually ended up using the services of a psychic named Bill Bosheers, who goes under the pseudonym of Norman Dodd in the book. Like in the film Bosheers seemed to know an extraordinarily high amount of unauthorized info about the case including the fact that the victim used prescription glasses for just one eye. Bosheers also predicted another similar crime would occur in the near future, which it did and police have long suspected that the two were done by the same person.

What makes this film interesting is the way it meticulously follows the police investigation and keeps everything at a real level including having them pursue what turns out to be a lot of false leads, which other Hollywood movies rarely tackle. Nothing gets overblown and in fact the film’s strength comes from keeping everything on a nice creepy, low-key level with the focus on Robertson’s interaction with Grey. I also liked that there is very little music and the only time that there is some is when Grey is onscreen and even then it’s quiet and nonobtrusive accentuating the creepiness without over doing it.

Although he gets stuck with a non-flamboyant part I felt Robertson does quite well and I enjoyed how his down-to-earth sensibilities continually clash with Grey’s more flighty ones although the scene where the Robertson’s character discusses the case with his wife (Dorothy Tristan) at home didn’t really mesh. The character is also seen drinking constantly to the point of being a full-fledged alcoholic and this should’ve been touched on, but isn’t.

Grey, who ironically starred in a TV-movie called Man on a String just before doing this one, is outstanding and the whole reason to watch the film as he commands every scene that he is in. The way he goes into his psychic ‘trances’ is riveting and the part where he makes his entire face turn dark red, without the use of any makeup, is genuinely startling as is his drooling after he passes out. The film is also littered with many familiar faces of up-and-coming stars too numerous to mention here, but worth spotting at seeing what they were doing before they were famous.

I enjoyed the on-location shooting done in Milford, Connecticut which takes full advantage of the small town locale and helps make the story seem even more vivid. There are several uniquely memorable moments including an exercise that Grey is forced to take to measure his psychic ability as well as his visit to a pair of psychiatrists, which is wonderfully played by Elizabeth Wilson. However, even with all these good elements the ending is a letdown as it leaves to many questions unanswered and plays like an intriguing mystery that ultimately goes nowhere.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 27, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The ‘Burbs (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New neighbors cause suspicion.

Ray (Tom Hanks) spends his vacation milling about his suburban home while keeping a close eye on his new neighbors that are rarely ever seen, but at night their basement emits strange noises and lights. Mark (Bruce Dern) and Art (Rick Ducommun) are two other men living in the cul-de-sac who notice the same things. Together they decide to form a strategy by finagling their way inside the rundown place and seeing what exactly is going on in there especially after another neighbor, the elderly Walter (Gale Gordon) mysteriously disappears.

Director Joe Dante has had a lot of success at doing films that mixes elements of horror with dark comedy, but this exercise fails almost immediately because there is nothing scary about it. In fact the humor and threadbare story are so innocuous that it becomes downright boring after about the first 10 minutes. The film fails to have much of a second or third act and the light doses of humor and action sprinkled about barely make up for it. The whole thing comes off like something written by an unimaginative novice that was more suited for an episode of an anthology series than a feature film.

Hanks manages to be marginally funny and Carrie Fisher makes for a good anchor as his no-nonsense wife, but Dern gets wasted as what starts out to be an over-the-top caricature of a right-wing gun-toting radical that soon gets as watered down as the rest of the script. He does manage to get in a few of his ‘Dernisms’, which was mainly due to the fact that the actors were allowed to ad-lib their own lines due to the fact that it was shot during a writer’s strike, but the part isn’t half as funny as it could’ve been. Also, in real-life a person like him wouldn’t be married to such a hot-looking younger woman and it would’ve been more impactful had the actress cast as his wife been his physical equal. I also wondered why they had so much free time to spend milling about the neighborhood. Hanks’ character was on vacation, but what was their excuse?

Spoiler Alert!

The ultimate revelation as to who the neighbors are or what they were doing is quite stale and almost like a non-event. If you are actually considering thinking of sitting through this thing just to find out that answer I would suggest that you don’t bother as it’s not in any way worth the effort. Also, there is never any explanation for what the neighbors were really doing, why they have a trunk full of human skulls, or why they would summon the police when they think their house has been broken into.  There is incriminating evidence at their residence, so why bother risking having the police come over to find it? Since they clearly didn’t have any problem killing people why didn’t they just attack the would-be intruders like they had done to their other victims?

End of Spoiler Alert!

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Religious lady goes crazy.

Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen (Shelley Winters) are two mothers whose sons commit a gruesome murder. Once the two men are convicted the women decide to move across the country, change their names and open up a dance studio. Adelle meets a handsome bachelor (Dennis Weaver) who is full of money, but Helen’s fortunes don’t improve. Instead she wallows in depression while receiving threatening phone calls, which gets her paranoid that someone is out to get them. She tries to seek solace through her religion, but eventually the stress becomes too much and her psychic begins to crack.

The screenplay was written by Henry Farrell famous for penning the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which later became a big screen success. Unlike that one this was written directly for the screen and misses the textured richness of a backstory specifically how the two women first met or how their friendship blossomed.

On the visual level it starts out well and I enjoyed the use of old news reel footage to help introduce the story, but after that it goes into a lull with long, talky takes that fail to generate much excitement. The recreation of the 1930’s setting looks cheap and stagy and the film lacks a cinematic flair to help compliment it’s campy storyline. Originally director Curtis Harrington had implemented visual effects to be used in the transitions between the scenes, which would’ve helped immensely, but the producer hated them and forced them to be taken out.

On the acting end I felt Reynolds was rather boring and stuck playing a character that isn’t very interesting, which made me surprised that she put up $800,000 of her own money just to get it produced. The showy role is clearly Helen’s and Winters plays the part quite well and becomes the film’s main attraction. Usually she would take-on flamboyant-type characters, but this one required her to be more subdued and repressed and she is able to do it magnificently, which only proves what a gifted and versatile performer she was.

There are a few edgy but brief bits including the shot of a dead body that has been run over by a farm plow, which has some pretty good bloody effects. However, the shot showing a close-up of the women’s body who was the victim of the two sons isn’t effective because it supposedly gets posted in a newspaper as a lead in to the article about the crime, but no mainstream publication either then or now would print such a gruesome picture of a victim.

There were also several provocative scenes that got excised in an effort to the attain the GP rating, which included a shot of Winters kissing Reynolds on the lips as well as a murder scene that was originally intended to be much more drawn out than what it ends up being. The film’s final shot though is still well done and probably the only thing that makes sitting through this worth it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

Peeper (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for client’s daughter.

Leslie C. Tucker (Michael Caine) is a British private eye working in L.A. who gets hired on by an eccentric client named Anglich (Michael Constantine) to find his long lost daughter that was born 24 years ago and now resides he believes somewhere in Hollywood. Tucker tries following the skimpy clues and this leads him to a beautiful woman named Ellen (Natalie Wood) who he believes just may be that daughter and not even know it, but the closer he gets to some answers the more questions he has to tackle as well as being chased by a pair of hoods (Timothy Carey, Don Calfa) who are out to stop him.

This film is based on a novel by Keith Laumer with a screenplay written by W.D. Richter and directed by Peter Hyams. With such talented people involved you’d think this would’ve been a winner, but it bombed at the box office and I’m not completely sure why. The ingredients are there, but the oversaturation of private eye parodies during the ‘70s could’ve gotten this one lost in the shuffle.

The film though is filled with snappy dialogue and some highly amusing voice-over narration by the Tucker character. There are also unique scenes including a car chase that takes place amidst a major traffic jam and a cool foot chase sequence down a long, winding spiral staircase. I also loved the scene where Tucker is trapped in a car with an angry dog outside only for him to miraculously turn-the-tables on the animal where he gets outside while the dog ends up stuck in the vehicle. The best moment though is at the beginning when actor Guy Marks does his impersonation of Humphrey Bogart while standing in a dark alley and reciting the opening credits instead of having them shown on screen.

As much as I love Michael Caine I found him to be wrong for this role. If you’re going to do a light parody of old school private eye films then you have to cast someone in the lead that would reflect to some degree Bogart. It certainly doesn’t have to be an impersonator, but someone that is from Brooklyn and has a New York mentality as opposed to a transplanted Englishman with a British accent.

Wood is equally miscast. This was her first theatrical feature in 7 years and she turned down a role in The Towering Inferno to do this one and I’m not sure why. The part is rather small and offers little range in either acting or character development and with everything else that goes on in the story she ends up getting forgotten though it does have a foreboding quality in that the final segment involves her on a boat and near water.

The mystery itself ends up being the worst thing. It’s too intricate and filled with so many rapidly paced twists that it becomes almost impossible to follow. The action is enough to keep it interesting, but as a compelling plot it fails. I also wasn’t too crazy about the title. The working title was ‘Fat Chance’, which I didn’t like either, but peeper is slang for a private eye who takes a lot of photographs, which this detective doesn’t do at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Blood Beach (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Beachgoers get sucked away.

Something is lurking beneath a Southern California beach and it’s not human. People and even animals are being sucked underneath the sand and disappearing, never to be found again. Lifeguard Harry (David Huffman) tries to do some investigating while starting up a relationship with the daughter (Marianna Hill) of one of the victims, but his efforts prove futile, so the police are called in, but do no better.

One of the nice things about this movie is that unlike most other horror films from that era it actually has a pretty decent budget and distinctive music score. The beach location, which was filmed at Santa Monica, makes for a pleasant diversion from the usual horror settings and the one thing I came away liking most about the movie.

Huffman, who ended up becoming a homicide victim himself in real-life only a few years after this was filmed, is bland to the point of being completely forgettable. However, the much more talented supporting cast gives the film some life. John Saxon is great as a brash and gruff police captain. Burt Young and Otis Young are amusing as police detectives with completely contrasting styles with Otis playing an amusing extension to the character that he did in The Last Detail where he tries earnestly to reel in his more undisciplined partner.

The film’s weak point is the second act that stalls without enough new twists being brought in. Seeing people constantly being swallowed up by the sand becomes monotonous and it takes way too long before we finally get an understanding to what is causing it. The film also has some quick cutaways showing what happens to the people once they are underneath the sand, which looks like it was spliced in from a cheaper film stock with tacky special effects that may simply be a product of the ‘Complete and Uncut’ version that I saw, but should’ve been avoided.

The attempt at doing a Jaws formula storyline on land instead of the water doesn’t work and only helps make the original seem all that much better. Had this been done as a parody might’ve helped it.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest letdown is the ending that never fully explains what this creature is and only gives the viewer a brief glimpse of it during the film’s last few minutes, which is disappointing. The story then goes full circle by showing the sand ready to swallow up more unsuspecting beachgoers while making the viewer feel like they’ve wasted 90 minutes of their time watching a film that doesn’t progress anywhere.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes (‘Complete’ cut)

Rated R

Director: Jeffrey Bloom

Studio: Compass International Pictures

Available: DVD

Open House (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Selling homes is murder.

Real Estate agents throughout southern California are turning up dead and no one has a clue as to who’s doing it. Then late night radio talk show host Dr. David Kelley (Joseph Bottoms) starts getting calls from a man who identifies himself as being the killer. David and the police try to track the man’s calls before David’s girlfriend Lisa (Adrienne Barbeau), who just so happens to be a real estate agent herself, becomes the killer’s next victim.

By the late ‘80s slasher films were starting to become more like dark comedies with some of them even being outright parodies, which is what I initially thought this one was going to be. There are some comical touches at the beginning before it completely devolves into the tired old slasher film cliché. No scares or tension and a storyline that plods along at a snail’s pace. The identity of the killer and his backstory is lame and the film’s generic synthesized sounding music score is not a good fit for a horror movie.

Barbeau, who is the former wife of horror director John Carpenter and has done alright starring in films from this genre before, gets stuck with some really bland material here and has little to work with. Apparently she only took the part to help pay for her son’s tuition. Bottoms, whose career never blossomed like his older brother’s, was clearly on the down slide when he took this one and his presence adds nothing.

There’s one good murder involving the killer hacking off the fingers of one of his victim’s with a shot showing the fingers wiggling on the floor before the killer, for whatever reason, puts them into his pocket. The camera also stays locked on the victim’s dead bodies longer than what is usual including having it focus on a dead woman’s corpse hanging by its neck from a rope for what seems like several minutes. I might even give it a point for being the first horror film that has a killer who wears dentures and at one point he even takes them out, but overall this thing lacks imagination or inspiration. It was directed by Jag Mundhra who went on to do a lot of Bollywood films and I don’t think he had a true passion or interest in horror movies as his direction is quite mechanical and the overall production falls agonizingly flat.

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My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 35Mintues

Rated R

Director: Jag Mundhra

Studio: Intercontinental Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where are the schoolgirls?

On Valentine’s Day in the year 1900 a group of Australian schoolgirls and two teachers (Vivean Gray, Helen Morse) set out to a rock formation known as Hanging Rock for a picnic. While there one of the girls named Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) decides to go exploring and three of the other girls follow. They proceed to climb the rocks, which frightens one of the girls (Christine Schuler) who runs back. By that evening the other three haven’t been located and a search party goes out by the local police to find them, which only leads to more questions than answers.

If one is in to mood pieces then this thing will be the perfect fit. The music and director Peter Weir’s ability to capture the rock formations in a way that makes them seem creepy and menacing is very well done. I found myself being strangely captivated most of the way while also impressed that the whole thing gets captured through a camera lens with a piece of bridal veil hung over it.

The story is based on the 1967 best-selling novel of the same name by Joan Lindsay. Despite many rumors to the effect and a follow-up novel called ‘The Murders at Hanging Rock’ this was not in any way based on a true story. Originally Lindsay wrote a resolution to the mystery that had the girls entering into some sort of time warp, but at the last minute that chapter was excised at the suggestion of her publisher, but then later published in 1987 as ‘The Secret of Hanging Rock’.

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The film on the other hand offers no resolution of any kind. Instead like in the book the main emphasis is on how the disappearance affects the people at the school and in the town. Rachel Roberts is a standout in this area playing the strict headmistress Mrs. Appleyard who initially comes off as quite composed and in control, but as the toll of the mystery continues her character unravels in increasingly more shocking ways, which is the film’s highlight.

Despite its cult following and the fact that it is included in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ I still came away frustrated and feeling like not enough happened to justify having to sit through two hours of viewing. On the technical end it is excellent and watching the different ways people cope and respond to the mystery is interesting, but this could’ve been played up a lot more.

Sometimes movies with vague endings are good as life doesn’t always give us nice and tidy wrap-ups, but this is one instance where it would’ve been better had there been more of a conclusion even if it had just thrown out some clues and then allowed the viewer to come to their own deductions. To some extent it does this as supernatural elements are introduced as well as the idea that it might’ve been a sexual crime, but even this is off-putting because it’s not connected to anything concrete or tangible and thus makes it all the more evasive.

Had this been based on an actual mystery, which for years is what a lot of people thought, then it would’ve been more acceptable and even fascinating, but the fact that it’s all made up hurts it and tears away the mystique that for a long time it relished under.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated PG

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Commission

Available: DVD (Criterion Collection), Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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This is a 2014 pic of Anne-Louise Lambert, who played Miranda in the film, sitting at the location of where the movie was filmed.

Fletch Lives (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter inherits a mansion.

Fletch (Chevy Chase) who writes for a Los Angeles newspaper under the byline of Jane Doe, receives to his surprise an inheritance of an old southern mansion. He immediately travels to the place while quitting his job in the process. The building is in bad shape, but he finds that he is receiving a generous offer to sell it, which makes him curious. Instead of taking the offer he does some research and finds that the property is a dumping ground for dangerous chemicals and that people are more than happy to murder him and others in order to keep them quiet about it.

The first film was based on a novel by George Macdonald, but this story was written directly for the big screen and the mystery is uninspired and obvious. Chase’s detached persona and acerbic wit gets put to a real test here. One scene has him discovering that the woman who he has just spent the night with is now dead, but he shows no shocked reaction at all making him seem almost inhuman. He then decides to smart-off to the police when they arrive to investigate even though any sane/half-way intelligent person would realize that would just get them into even more trouble, which it justifiably does here.

The character also has an unrealistically massive-sized ego especially in regards to his job and the arrogant way that he deals with his boss (Richard Libertini) acting almost like he is above the rules and can come and go whenever he pleases without having to answer to anyone. Now this behavior to some extent could be more justified if he was writing under his own name and had a large fan following, but to the readers he is just ‘Jane Doe’ and for all they know he is a woman instead of a man. In either case he could easily be replaced by another reporter writing under the same byline and no one would notice or care, which makes his entitled attitude completely out-of-line and one that should have gotten him fired long ago.

There is also no explanation to what happened to the Gail character, which was played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson. The first film ended with the two of them supposedly falling-in-love, but in this film she has completely disappeared. Now the first installment came out 4 years earlier and a lot of relationships don’t last that long, so it’s possible that they simply broke-up and moved-on, which is fine. However, in this movie her character gets replaced by one who looks just like her (Julianne Phillips) and she falls-in-love with Fletch in much the same way making the plotline seem highly formulaic and like they are simply replacing one blue-eyed, blonde bimbo with another.

The humor is generic and juvenile although I’m ashamed to say I did find myself chuckling at some of it. The best moment is a take-off on The Song of the South that comes complete with animation and by far the film’s one and only inspired moment.

The action sequences are flat. In the first film there was an exciting car chase, which was passable, but here we get treated to a motorcycle chase that goes completely off the believability meter by having Fletch do stunts that no one with limited driving experience would try nor survive.

The supporting cast is wasted especially Hal Holbrook in a part that is completely beneath his talents. However, I did get a kick out of R. Lee Ermey. He gained a major cult following from his performance as a tough sergeant in Full Metal Jacket and gets cast here as a TV-evangelist, which I found interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube