The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hijacker eludes the authorities.

Loosely based on the real-life incident involving a man using the alias of Dan Cooper, but later reported in the media as D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a Boeing 727 as it flew towards Seattle, Washington on the night of November 24, 1971 and parachuted out of the plane with $200,000, but whose remains have never been found. In the film D.B. Cooper is the alias for Jim Meade and is played by Treat Williams as he parachutes into a wooden area and becomes chased by Bill Gruen (Robert Duvall) who was Meade’s sergeant in the army and feels he knows him better than anyone.

Had the film made some legitimate attempt at accuracy it might’ve been moderately intriguing, but right from the start it plays fast-and-loose with the facts including having the jump take places in the sunny daytime when in reality it occurred at night during a rainstorm. The time period is supposed to be late autumn, but many people are shown doing summertime activities like having a couple going skinny dipping in a pond even though it would’ve been too chilly for that. There’s also a ridiculous scene where Paul Gleason, playing a useless character that was not needed at all, going headfirst through the front windshield of a moving car and receiving a slight cut on his right cheek as his only injury.

John Frankenheimer was originally hired to direct, but after having numerous arguments with the producers over the film’s insipid script he was fired. He was then replaced by Buzz Kulik who tried turning it into a topical drama by portraying the Cooper character as being a disgruntled Vietnam Vet. Roger Spottiswoode and Ron Shelton were then brought it to ‘jazz-it-up’ a bit with some stunt-work and the chase scene down the rapids is impressive, but the humor they put in is dumb and the ‘Dukes of Hazard-like soundtrack ill-advised.

I started to feel that it would’ve worked better had it not connected itself to the real incident at all but instead had Williams portray a fictional character all together. It also should’ve analyzed the planning/preparation phase much more and shown him pulling off the actual hijacking instead of just starting out with the parachute jump.

While he doesn’t look anything like the sketches shown of the real Cooper I still found Williams to be fun in the lead and Kathryn Harrold lends great support as his resourceful wife. Duvall is solid as usual and even though it doesn’t take place in the Pacific Northwest, which is where the real incident occurred, I still enjoyed the sunny scenery, but that’s where the good points begin and end in a movie that clearly had misfired written all over it before even one frame of it was filmed.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Roger Spottiswoode, Buzz Kulik (Uncredited)

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video, YouTube.

Voyage of the Damned (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: This ship goes nowhere.

Based on the true story of the ill-fated voyage of 937 Jewish refugees who left the port of Hamburg, Germany in 1939 on the ocean liner St.Louis, which was supposed to arrive in Havana, Cuba where they hoped to start a new life free of the rising antisemitism that had plagued them in Europe. However, when the ship reaches Cuba they are not allowed to dock and when the ship’s Captain (Max Von Sydow) tries to take them to the US and Canada they are refused entry as well forcing them to return to Germany.

Given the high production values and riveting story-line I was expecting it to be far more compelling than it ends up being. It’s not like Stuart Rosenberg’s direction is poor either because it isn’t, but it never gains any dramatic traction and the more it goes on the more boring it gets. This is definitely one instance where cutting the runtime would’ve been advantageous. I know we live in an era where the ‘director’s cut’ is considered the gold standard, but sometimes there’s good reasons for why studios edit it and usually it’s because some of the footage just isn’t necessary. I watched the 158 version, but the theatrical cut was trimmed to 134 minutes and after watching this one I can only presume that version would’ve been an improvement and if anything could’ve gained a better pace, which is something that is seriously lacking here.

There also too many characters and it’s hard to keep track of all them or get emotionally invested in their quandary especially when by-and-large their all suffering from the same dilemma. The time span between when they show a character to when they return is so long that by the time you see them again you’ve pretty much forgotten all about them.

The large cast is full big names and familiar faces and a few of them do a terrific job. I felt Von Sydow’s performance as the beleaguered but stoic captain was right on-target and I also enjoyed Orson Welles as the glib Cuban politician. Kudos also should go to Lee Grant, who ended up getting nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar here, for her one shocking scene where she cuts her hair down to its scalp, but overall most of the talent gets wasted. This includes Denholm Elliot and Jose Ferrer who appear onscreen for only a few minutes and Katherine Ross who has only two scenes that come near the end, but still managed to somehow get a Golden Globe nomination for her efforts anyways.

Spoiler Alert!

The film ends on a supposed happy note when the ship’s captain informs the passengers that Belgium and France will accept them, but then the denouncement states that 600 of them ended up dying anyways during the German Occupation making the viewer feel much like the passengers that they’ve just spent almost 3-hours going in circles. Maybe that’s the point, but as an insightful drama it fails. I was almost hoping that the Captain would’ve gone through with his plan to have the ship crash off the shore of England and allowing the passengers to disembark as a safety precaution, but still trying to make it look like it was an accident and not intentional. Although this would’ve swayed from what really happened it could’ve been an interesting thing to see and brought some genuine action into the mix, which was otherwise missing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

A Dry White Season (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights social injustice.

The story centers on South African schoolteacher Ben (Donald Sutherland) who has led a peaceful law abiding suburban existence and has no idea about the social injustices around him. One day his black gardener (Winston Ntshona) comes to him complaining about how his son was beaten by police simply for attending a peaceful rally. Ben initially dismisses the claims and insists the son must’ve done something wrong, but when he investigates the issue further he finds some startling revelations about how far the authorities are willing to go to stop dissent and when Ben decides to challenge the police on this his life and security get put on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Andre Brink and directed by Euzhan Palcy who became the first Black woman to direct a film that was produced by a major Hollywood studio. For the most part the film is polished and well made and at the beginning emotionally effective as we see first hand the brutal treatment of the protesters by the police. I also liked how it shows both sides of the issue by having Ben’s wife Susan (Janet Suzman) admit that apartheid is wrong, but too afraid for its abolishment as she fears it might put the whites at too much of a disadvantage.

Unfortunately somewhere along the way it starts to lose steam and ends on a whimper that is nowhere near the emotional level that it began with. Part of the problem is that it suffers from a weak main character. Sutherland plays the part well, but it’s hard to understand how someone could live well into his middle age years and still have such extreme naivety to what was going on in the country that he resided in. He’s also dependent on those around him to do most of the legwork and you have to question what difference does our hero’s actions ultimately make anyways since apartheid continued on for many years after this film’s setting, which is 1976.

All of this could’ve been resolved had Marlon Brando’s character been made the protagonist. Brando came out of retirement to take on the supporting role and agreed to do it at union scale, which was far below his usual salary demands. His presence adds zest to the proceedings as a lawyer who is quite attuned to the corrupt system, but decides to give it a fiery court battle anyways and it’s a shame that he’s only in it for a brief period and then just completely disappears during the second half.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending differs a bit from the book and was added in by director Palcy, which has a black cab driver Zakes Mokae taking the law into his own hands and shooting the Jurgen Prochnow character, who plays a policemen, after he intentionally ran Sutherland over with his car. Palcy did this to show how even decent people can be pushed to violence, which I agree with, but she seems to feel the need to justify this by having a flashback ‘replay’ of all the previous events that drove Mokae to pull the trigger, which comes off as heavy-handed. If we’ve watched the movie then we already know what happened and don’t suddenly need a ‘refresher course’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

As a drama it’s an adequately compelling, but there’s other movies on the same subject and I can’t say this one stands out from those. I was also disappointed to find that the book from which this is based was fictional as I initially thought it was a true story since it takes place in a very specific year. I’m not saying some of what goes on here didn’t happen in a broad sense, but having it centered on verifiable events gives it more relevance and makes it seem more like telling a story as opposed to just making a political statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Euzhan Palcy

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

UFOria (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She dreams about spaceships.

Arlene (Cindy Williams) is a lonely woman living in a small town and working at a local supermarket. One night she starts having dreams about a spaceship landing in town and taking her away. Her new boyfriend Sheldon (Fred Ward), who is a shady drifter always looking to make a quick buck, works with his brother Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), much to her consternation, to use her ‘visions’ to make money off of it by portraying her as communicating with some outer worldly messenger that’s connected to God.

This film was made in 1980, but sat on the shelf for 5 years and it’s easy to see why as it’s difficult to put it into any predefined genre. It’s certainly isn’t a sci-fi flick and in a lot of ways it really isn’t a comedy either. There are a few funny bits, but they get lost inside scenes that go on far longer than they should, which never allows the film to gain any traction or momentum.

Williams is not right for her part and fails to convey the downtrodden look of a lonely woman in a role that would’ve been better served had it been played by an actress with a more plainish, dumpy features like Kathy Bates. It’s also annoying that she has these vivid dreams, but the viewer never gets to see them. Movies are a visual medium and should take advantage of that element as much as possible by showing what’s happening instead of just having a character describe it.

Stanton isn’t right for his part either. In certain films his low-key style is perfect, but here he fails to effectively convey the animated, fiery delivery of a TV evangelist, which is a part that needed to be comically played-up much more.

Ward was the only one that I liked and he really comes into his own with a character that isn’t particularly likable, but has an interesting arch where he goes from being a cynical non-believer to eventually defending Arlene from those who mock her. He also drives his car in the most bizarre way that I’ve ever seen with his feet up on the dashboard and not on the pedals.

Spoiler Alert!

I was hoping that the ending would be a payoff for having to sit through such a slow, poorly paced film, but ultimately it falls flat just like everything else. I liked the idea of a spaceship suddenly appearing, but then the film cuts to the closing credits without examining what happened to the people, how they reacted to it, or what the aftermath was, which I found frustrating.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The small town setting filmed in Palmdale and Lancaster, California gives off just the right rustic look and prime stomping ground for fringey, eccentric people like the characters here.  While the film does have a definite cult appeal the offbeat elements get stymied inside a lethargic pace that never allows it to gel, or become captivating.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Binder

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog turns on owner.

Abel Marsh (James Garner) is the police chief of a small west coast seaside town who’s put in charge of investigating a baffling case where a dog inexplicably turned on its owner and killer her. The clues though don’t match up convincing Abel that the dog is innocent and used simply as a ruse to cover-up an even more sinister crime.

This is the first of four films all written by Lane Slate to feature the character of Abel Marsh. All of the subsequent films featured the same small town setting and quirky themed murders, but where made for TV instead featuring Alan Alda in the role of Abel for Isn’t it Shocking and then Andy Griffith playing the part in The Girl in the Empty Grave and Deadly Game.

The mystery here has its share of intriguing elements and I liked the methodical pace, which is reminiscent of actual police work where the clues don’t just come easily and quickly. I also liked how the viewer remains just as in the dark about who did it as the investigator. The subplot involving the doberman is interesting as well and like in the film To Kill a Clown, which came out the same year, the dog ends up being the ultimate scene-stealer from his human counterparts.

Due to this being the last film made on MGM’s famous backlot many former stars from Hollywood’s golden age agreed to appear in small roles including Ann Rutherford in an amusing bit as a old-school secretary who can’t figure out how to work an electric type writer. The best bit though comes from June Allyson who doesn’t have any speaking lines until the very end where she gets a bravura-like finale similar to Betsy Palmer’s in Friday the 13th and even sports the same type of hairstyle as hers and sweater/pants, which makes it all the more ironic.

The thing though that I found annoying was the formulaic romance that starts almost immediately between Garner and Katherine Ross. For one thing the mystery could’ve worked just as well had Ross’ character not been in it at all, but if they did feel the need to throw in a romantic subplot it’s always more interesting when there’s some friction or resistance at first only to have it evolve into a relationship later versus making it a ‘love at first sight’ scenario, which is too quick and unrealistic especially when there’s a 15-year age difference between the two.

What gets even more aggravating is that after spending the night with her Garner then starts to suspect that she may know more about the crime than she lets on, so the next day he storms into her apartment and quite literally starts strangling her to get the info. Then when he realizes he may have jumped to the wrong conclusion he leaves her place in a huff without even bothering to apologize. Several hours later he sheepishly returns, but instead of slamming the door in his face she asks if he’s alright?!

Later near the end of the film she returns to his office and acts like somehow it was all her fault and seems to leave things open to rekindling the romance, but why? Unless she’s desperate (and she’s way too beautiful for that) or has extremely low self-esteem she should’ve ended things right when he attacked her because it was an obvious red flag and the fact that she doesn’t shows how dated and out-of-touch the film is in regards to modern day relationship dynamics.

The scenery is nice especially the Malibu location of the victim’s house and seeing it get burned quite literally to the ground is kind of cool too. However, the quirky elements don’t gel and overall the film ends up being transparent and flat.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

My Favorite Year (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babysitting an alcoholic actor.

The year is 1954 and Benjy (Mark Linn-Baker), who works as a junior writer at a top rated TV variety show, is put in charge of babysitting a famous matinee idol named Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) who is set to guest star on an episode of the show. Alan is a well known alcoholic who usually finds a way to stay constantly inebriated and it’s Benjy’s job to keep him sober, which proves challenging.

The first 30 minutes of the film has some snappy dialogue and a fast, engaging pace. It’s loosely based on a real-life incident where Mel Brooks, then working as a young writer on the TV-show ‘Your Show of Shows’, was put in charge of watching Errol Flynn and making sure he stayed away from the bottle, which he apparently did making the comic situations that occur here highly fabricated.

Unfortunately by the middle half it starts to lose steam and never fully recovers. It works best during the scenes where Baker and O’Toole are together, which is where the story should’ve stayed. Instead it unwisely tries to work in a ridiculous romantic side-story between Baker and Jessica Harper, which isn’t interesting at all and even slightly creepy as Harper has clearly stated she’s not interested in getting into a relationship with him and yet he continues to pursue her and even gets jealous and acts like he ‘owns’ her when he sees her with another guy.

The film also doesn’t take enough advantage of Joseph Bologna who plays the narcissistic/ego-driven star of the show that was apparently based on Sid Caesar. Nobody can play a brash, arrogant, obnoxious guy quite like Bologna and still manage to somehow remain likable and engaging in the process, so when you got him in the cast and in top form you should use his skills to its full potential, which this film doesn’t.

The Swan character ultimately gets overblown. I didn’t have a problem with his extreme drunkenness at the start, but he begins to behave too much like some overgrown man-child like when he impulsively jumps onto a policemen’s horse and rides it for no particular reason almost like he’s from a completely different planet and no longer even slightly resembling an actual person who must deal with real consequences. Watching him meltdown without restraint when he realizes he’ll be put on live television makes him pathetic and lacking even a modicum of professionalism. Anyone as emotionally fragile as he is would never even have a chance in the real Hollywood where one must put up a tough front in order to survive in it.

Richard Benjamin’s directorial debut isn’t bad, but it does have two glaring flaws. One occurs when Baker and O’Toole are on the rooftop of a building and their images are matted over a green screen, which causes orbs to appear around their heads, which is distracting and amateurish looking.  Another one comes when at the end O’Toole saves Bologna, who’s getting beat up by some thugs on live TV, by slashing the bad guy’s clothes with his sword, which wouldn’t occur since stage props don’t actually use real blades.

The brief appearances by the raspy voiced Selma Diamond and Cameron Mitchell are gems and the film also manages to work in a few poignant moments, which is nice. Overall though the concept gets stretched too thin and becomes too cute for its own good.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Benjamin

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, YouTube

The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bumbling buddies cause havoc.

Amos and Theodore (Tim Conway, Don Knotts) are two former members of an outlaw gang who are now trying to go straight, but as they enter the western boom town of Junction City they find their hopes of living life free of their old criminal ways to be dashed when they get mistakenly accused of robbing the town’s bank. They go on the run from the town’s relentless sheriff (Kenneth Mars) by enlisting in the United States Calvary, but accidentally cause a fire there that ends up burning the whole fort down and getting them into even more trouble.

This very weak sequel to  The Apple Dumpling Gang, has little to recommend and barely any connection to the first one. Besides Knotts and Conway no one from the original cast appears here except for Harry Morgan who plays an entirely different character. It was also the kids in the first film that were called the Apple Dumpling gang and not the two bumbling men, which just cements how unnecessary this film really is.

It’s not like any of the cast from the original film was all that memorable, but they at least helped balance the story from being just one long inane slapstick act, which is all you end up getting here. Knotts and Conway can be good comic relief in brief sporadic spurts, but trying to tie a whole movie around their bumbling act makes it quite one-dimensional.

The supporting cast isn’t any good either with Tim Matheson as bland and transparent as ever as a heroic officer and his romance with the feisty Elyssa Davalos is formulaic and cliched to the extreme. Mars goes overboard with the arrogant sheriff who goes crazy act until it becomes just as annoying and overdone as everything else in the film.

I’ll admit as a child I thought this movie was entertaining, but as an adult I got bored almost immediately despite finding the first installment to be genuinely enjoyable. Part of the problem is that the first one was based on a novel and had an actual story mixed in with the gags while this one is centered exclusively on extreme coincidences to help propel its thin plot along while throwing in slapstick bits that are predictable and unoriginal.

The only thing that surprised me at all was seeing Conway get top billing even though Knotts displayed a wider acting range while Conway merely stands around looking perpetually befuddled. Knotts also had the majority of lines and a little more dimension to his comedy while Conway just acts like a cross-eyed dope, which to me got boring real fast.

I understand that these films have a certain nostalgic appeal for those adults who remember watching it as a kid, but I honestly think that appeal will wear off quickly after about 5 minutes. If you’re under 10 you may like it better, but others should beware.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Buena Vista 

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Deal of the Century (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making money selling weapons.

Eddie (Chevy Chase) is a American arms dealer selling weapons to both the rebels and military dictator of a small South American country. While there he meets Harold (Wallace Shawn) who works for a large contractor known as Luckup. Their weaponry is much more sophisticated and cutting edge so after Harold kills himself Eddie takes over the deal and successfully wins a big contract, but upon returning to the states he finds that the deal fell through, which forces him to return to the small country along with Harold’s widow Catherine (Sigourney Weaver) and his partner Ray  (Gregory Hines) to see if they can make another pitch.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Edelman and makes some really good satirical points about how the arms race being driven more by corporate greed, which only helps to create wars instead of preventing them. Unfortunately the film’s tone is too muddled and goes haphazardly from lighthearted fare to dark humor while throwing in graphic violence that is jarring. There’s also a surprising number of scenes where the three main characters don’t appear in it at all.

Chase can be appealing if given the right material but his cynical smart-ass sense of humor doesn’t exactly make him lovable. Here his character is so consumed with making a deal that he becomes no different than the bad guys and someone the viewer doesn’t connect with or care for. The only positive thing about his character is that he gets shot in the foot early on and then unlike most other movies where the healing power gets sped up he instead spends the rest of the film in a cast, which is more realistic. The scene where he gets shot in the foot a second time and blood spews out of the cast until Sigourney stops it up with a cork is the film’s best moment.

Hines on the other hand is quite likable and his convergence to Christianity is funny and should’ve been played-up more. The scene where he gets into a confrontation with a Latino couple after a car accident is amusing, but having him suddenly go rogue at the end makes little sense and is kind of stupid.

Weaver, who doesn’t have any significant presence until almost 45 minutes in, is wasted and there’s no way that anyone as beautiful as her would marry a chump like Wallace Shawn, which makes the casting here quite nebulous. Vince Edwards, famous for starring in the 60’s medical drama ‘Ben Casey’, gets a surprisingly large role as a Luckup executive and I can only guess that this was because of his longtime friendship with director William Friedkin as otherwise by the 80’s he was way past his and largely forgotten.

There are some humorous bits here and there, but overall the pacing is poor and quite jumbled. Friedkin, better known for his dark dramas and horror films, looks way out of his league and when compared to other Hollywood comedies this thing lacks finesse. The special effects are also really tacky, which ultimately sends this to a schlock level and becomes an embarrassment to all those who were involved.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, YouTube

Oliver’s Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to wife’s death.

It’s been 6 years since Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) lost his wife to leukemia and he’s still having a hard time learning to move on from it. He hasn’t been in a serious relationship since and his friends including his step father (Edward Binns) are pressuring him to start dating. Finally by chance he meets Marci (Candice Bergen) while she is out jogging. She is secretly an heiress to a massive fortune, which allows the two to connect due to their similar well-to-do upbringings, but when things start to get serious Oliver finds himself  resisting unable to cut the ties from his past and move forward.

This is definitely a sequel that nobody asked for and in fact both O’Neal and Bergen initially had no interest doing it. The original film worked because it centered on the couple and when you take away one of them you have only half a movie. Oliver on his own is boring and watching him learn to adjust to life as a single person is not compelling and no different than the hundreds of other movies dealing with the dating scene.

John Marley, who played Jenny’s father in the first film, refused to appear in this one because he was unhappy with how his name was going to be placed in the credits, so he got replaced by Edward Binns who seems to be playing a completely different character. Here the father-in-law and Oliverhave acquired a chummy friendship and even hang out together despite this never having been established in the first film. Ray Milland reprises his role as Oliver’s father, but gets portrayed in a much more likable way while in the first one he came off more as a heavy.

The film’s only interesting aspect is seeing how much the social norms have changed. Here being single is considered like a disease and his pesky friends are emboldened enough to set Oliver up on dates and openly telling him that he needs to ‘get out more’ even though by today’s standards the single lifestyle is much more prevalent and accepted and doing these same types of actions now by well meaning friends would be considered intrusive and obnoxious.

Having one of the women that he meets at a dinner party invite him back to her place despite barely knowing him is something not likely to occur today either. The way though that Oliver meets Marcie is the most absurd as he quite literally chases her down while she is jogging, which would scare most women into thinking that they had a crazy stalker on their hands.

On the production end the film is competently made with the springtime scenery of New York as well as shots of the couple’s trip to Hong Kong being the only thing that I enjoyed. The story though lacks punch and drones on with too many side dramas. O’Neal’s performance is good, but his chemistry with Bergen is lacking, which ultimately makes this a production that had misfire written all over it before a single frame of it was even shot.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Korty

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video,  YouTube

After Hours (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t stay out late.

Paul (Griffin Dunne) is a single man living in New York, who’s bored with his job and looking to spend his Friday night on the town in hopes that he might hook-up with an attractive woman. While at a late night cafe he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) who tells him that she lives with a sculptress who makes and sells paperweights. Paul decides to use the excuse that he wants to buy one as his ruse to go over to her apartment in hopes of ‘getting lucky’. Yet when he arrives things quickly become surreal where everybody he meets behave in strange ways making his night-on-the-town a nightmarish event.

The film is based on a screenplay by Joseph Minion, who has written two other produced screenplays 1999’s On the Run and 1991’s Motorama that play off the exact same theme, and was done for the screenwriting class that he was taking at Columbia University, which got the attention of Dunne who optioned it as a project he felt would be a perfect fit for his acting style. Unbeknownst to him though was that the first part of it was based on a 30 minute-monologue piece called ‘Lies’ written by Joe Frank and broadcast on NPR radio in 1982 and when the film came out the studio was forced to pay Frank an out of court settlement because of it.

Many have felt the film’s theme is Paul’s emasculation by all the women that he meets, and to an extent that’s probably true, but for me I found it more interesting to see how despite the film’s surreal quality it’s still not that far off from truth. It’s like going out on a first date with a really attractive person who your’e excited about only to find as you get to know them that they’re really screwed-up, or meeting a new group of people who you initially think you have something in common with only to learn as you talk to them that you really don’t. It also nicely satirizes the hip/happening patrons of the club scene who walk around with a perpetual arrogant attitude of coolness, but in reality are quite hollow.

The production was filmed at night, which forced the crew to work for 10-straight weeks from sundown to sun up and then catch-up with their sleep during the day, but the effort was worth it as it helps create this underworld feel with no connection to the ‘proper’ daytime one. I also loved how it tries to explore New York’s club scene and the artsy SoHo district with all the eccentric personalities that make up that subculture, which helps to make New York the unique place that it is and which gets criminally ignored in most other movies that take place there.

The acting is excellent with everyone perfectly cast although the scenes I enjoyed the most involved Dunne’s exchanges with some lesser known performers like Murray Moston as a subway attendant and Clarence Felder as a nightclub bouncer. Credit must also go to Dunne himself who plays the normal guy role perfectly. Had he been too over-the-edge with it, or too nerdy it wouldn’t have worked as the character had to be someone the viewer could relate to while behaving/reacting to things in plausible ways in order to feed off the paradox that the more rational he was the more irrational everything else around him  became.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending proved to be the toughest part for director Martin Scorsese to implement. Originally Dunne’s character was driven away in the van still trapped in a the plaster sculpture that Gail (Verna Bloom) had put him in, but this got a negative response from the test audience, so they then considered having Dunne crawl into Bloom’s womb to hide and then getting ‘reborn’ out on the highway, but that was too bizarre.

The one that they finally came up with, which was suggested by director Michael Powell who came on as a consultant, has Dunne ending up at the office where he worked, which has added irony since most offices are boring places that people usually can’t wait to get out of.  However, it never shows how these experiences changed him and a scene should’ve been added showing Dunne afraid to ever leave and continuing to work late in the night after everyone else had gone before finally getting dragged out by the security guards.

The film also fails to explain how Dunne ever got back into his apartment since the bartender (John Heard) had taken his keys to his place earlier. A good alternative ending would’ve had Dunne falling out of the van not at the office, but at his apartment instead where he would’ve then be let in by his landlord. He would fall asleep in his bed feeling safe only to awaken with everyone that had been chasing him earlier now standing around his bedside having been let in by the bartender with the keys.

Overall this is the type of film that you wished had gone on longer as it gets funnier the more it goes on. My only quibble is that Dunne should’ve been forced to get the Mohawk when he was at the club as seeing him with one would’ve accentuated his beaten down mindset and made his appearance when he returned to work even more absurd.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Scorsese

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, YouTube