Tag Archives: Brian Dennehy

The Check is in the Mail (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban man drops-out.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joan Darling, Ted Kotcheff (uncredited)

Studio: Ascot Entertainment Group

Available: VHS

Little Miss Marker (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid used for collateral.

Sorrowful Jones (Walter Matthau) is a no-nonsense bookie running a gambling operation during the 30’s. When one of his clients named Carter (Andrew Rubin) cannot pay back his $10 debt he puts up his 6-year-old daughter (Sara Stimson), who is simply known as ‘the Kid’, as collateral. Sorrowful tells his assistant named Regret (Bob Newhart) to look after her, but Regret does not like kids, so he drops the young girl off at Sorrowful’s doorstep one night and then promptly leaves forcing Sorrowful to begrudgingly become her surrogate father figure. Eventually the two grow fond of each other and become inseparable, as does Amanda (Julie Andrews) who’s the girlfriend to a crime boss named Blackie (Tony Curtis). Blackie does not like that Sorrowful is showing an interest in Amanda, or her in him and  proceeds to try and throw a monkey-wrench into their potential affair while also coercing Sorrowful to partner with him in a fixed horse race.

This film was the fourth remake of the story that originally came out in 1934 and starred Adolphe Menjou as Sorrowful and Shirley Temple as the Kid. In 1949 it got remade with Bob Hope playing Sorrowful and Mary Jane Saunders as the child. Then is 1962 a variation of the story was was done called 40 Pounds of Trouble that was shot on-location in Disneyland and starred Tony Curtis in the Sorrowful role, though the character name was changed to Steve, and Claire Wilcox portraying the child, whose name in the film was Penny. While I have not seen any of those versions I still came away feeling this one had to be the weakest. A lot of the problem is that the script relies too heavily on the cuteness factor of the child, who is certainly adorable, but has no discernable personality. It’s also hard to imagine that a child who has just been abandoned by her father, and had also gone through the trauma of the death of her mother, would be so well-behaved and in reality would probably be showing some serious adjustment issues.

I’m not sure why Matthau, who also produced, thought this project would be a good idea, but appearing in it did not bolster his career. Didn’t he ever hear of the old adage never share the screen with animals or cute kids as they’ll just steal away all the attention? It’s not like Stimson, whose only movie role this was and who now works as a pediatrician in Arizona,  didn’t have to do anything special for that to happen as her big blue eyes are enough to capture the heartstrings of just about any viewer. I also had a hard time understanding his character particularly the fact that he was this brash, tough talking bookie yet doesn’t carry a gun nor have any fighting skills as proven by the fistfight he attempts to have with Curtis where even though Curtis was shorter Matthau he’s is still frightened of him and constantly backing away whenever Curtis got in his face. You’d think a streetwise person would have some ability to defend himself if needed and not just slink away the second someone else, particularly one who was smaller, suddenly got aggressive.

Bob Newhart gets completely wasted in a role that’s so small and insignificant I’m surprised why he even took it. I also didn’t think this was the right movie for Julie Andrews either. Sure, she has an engaging quality, but for a woman dating a crime boss she seemed way too pure and innocent almost like she was completely oblivious to his underhanded nature. In reality the people one hangs out with will inevitably rub off on that person and a more realistic portrayal would’ve had her being a bit corrupt, which would’ve actually been more interesting as it would’ve created a two-dimensional character who was cold and conniving most of the time, but then when the kid comes along a softer side gets exposed.

In contrast both Curtis and Brian Dennehy, who plays his henchmen, are a delight and needed more screen time. It’s interesting too seeing Lee Grant appear near the end playing a judge and almost unrecognizable in a gray wig, but the story as a whole flounders chiefly because, outside of the scenes showing a fixed horserace, there’s no action at all, which makes it absurd to call this a ‘family movie’. If I, as an adult, was bored I can only imagine a kid being even more so. In fact I’d say this movie really wasn’t made for kids at all, but instead little old ladies who enjoy cutesy kids the way they like cutesy puppy dogs and want children only shown as being adorable even though kids, like with everyone else, can have their bad side, which conveniently gets left out here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Bernstein

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Split Image (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes brainwashed.

Danny (Micheal O’Keefe) is a struggling athlete who’s feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures of college life. He meets-up with Rebecca (Karen Allen) who invites him to a weekend stay at what turns out to be a religious cult run by Kirklander (Peter Fonda). It is there that Danny becomes brainwashed into the organization and cuts off all ties with his parents (Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Ashley) who decide they have no option but to kidnap him and then have him deprogrammed by a brash, caustic deprogrammer (James Woods) who they find to be rude but helpful

This film is very similar to Ticket to Heaven that was produced in Canada and has the same story and structure. The Canadian production though is a bit better especially with the way it examines the protagonist getting acclimated into the cult. Both films have the young man becoming brainwashed in a matter of one weekend which to me is too quick. The Canadian film though at least examines the different activities that they go through to wear him down and it gets in your face with it, so the viewer feels as exhausted as the young man when t’s over while this film glosses over that part making the transition seem too extreme. The Canadian film also detailed the character’s constant inner turmoil even after he’d been indoctrinated while here Danny behaves like a light switch that completely changes from his old self in a snap and then never looks back, which is less realistic

The B-story dealing with a romance that he has with Rebecca while in the group degrades the the story to a sappy opera level and should’ve been left out. Allen certainly is perfect for her role as her bright, beaming blue eyes gives her character that brainwashed appearance, but the extended conversations she has with Danny are strained making me believe that the scenes inside the cult should’ve been cut as they’re corny instead of compelling and focused instead  solely on the parents point-of-view at trying to get him out.

The film though does score with the deprogramming segment, which gets much more extended here. Director Ted Kotcheff uses elaborate visual effects to convey Danny’s point-of-view and unlike in Ticket to Heaven the deprogrammer doesn’t allow the family and friends to sit-in on his sessions as he feared they won’t understand his methods, which is more believable.

Ashley as the mother is great especially her meltdown near the end with Danny when he tries to physically attack her.  I had some problems though with Dennehy’s character as he seemed much too calm and laid back and even starts singing as they drive to the cult location even though most people would be nervous and then later showing him breaking down and crying as he watched an old video of Danny is too overwrought.

Woods though perfectly captures the anti-hero with his intended brashness being more amusing than offensive. The part where he plays-out a scene to the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy was I’m convinced ad-libbed and a great example of  how his acting genius gives this movie a needed edge and whose presence keeps it watchable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, Amazon Video