Tag Archives: John Ritter

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

They All Laughed (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Audrey Hepburn’s last movie.

Three male detectives (Ben Gazzara, John Ritter, Blaine Novak) follow around two beautiful ladies (Dorothy Stratten, Audrey Hepburn) whose husbands think are being unfaithful. The detectives have been hired to keep tabs on them, but in the process end up falling for them and then try to somehow get their attention without giving away why they are there.

The film has a nice casual pace that helps bring out its rather eccentric tone. The on-location shooting of New York is outstanding. It’s one thing to show the viewer a bird’s eye view of the skyline, but another to take them onto the city streets and inside all the different shops, from bookstores to museums, while giving them a very real sense that they are going inside these places along with the characters as it picks up the inside ambience quite nicely.

The problem though is that there is no story. The first thirty minutes deals with these men following the women around, but it is not clear why they are doing it and the script’s evasiveness becomes off-putting. There’s no beginning, middle or end, or even any conflict. Just a flat, breezy tale of some cardboard characters having brief flings and that’s it. 2-hours of your time have now just been saved.

The interesting cast allows for some diversion, but even that’s not enough. This is mostly known as being Dorothy Stratten’s last movie as she was murdered before the film was released. However, I was much more impressed with Patti Hansen, who plays a cab driver and has since 1983 been the wife of Keith Richards. I was taken in not only by her stunning beauty, but her relaxed composure in front of the camera. She displays a wonderfully effervescent smile and a laid back persona that doesn’t get intimidated at all by the big name stars around her. If there was one person I wanted the film to be built around it was her and was disappointed it wasn’t.

Stratten on the other hand is not as good-looking and displays all the expected qualities of a model that has no formal acting training as she conveys stiffness as well as a one-note delivery. Her character seems too young to be married to the man that she is and overall I felt the only reason she got cast is because director Peter Bogdanovich was thinking through his penis instead of his head.

Gazzara and Ritter are weak too. They’ve done some good work in other projects, but not here. Gazzara is particularly annoying as his face seems frozen with this leering grinning expression that just never goes away. Ritter plays a bumbling version of his Jack Tripper character and while some of those antics were amusing on ‘Three’s a Company, here they quickly become stale.

Hepburn is the film’s only bright spot and this is considered to be her last theatrical feature as she had just a cameo appearance in Always, but she doesn’t really appear until the second hour and most of the time is seen wearing big bulky dark glasses that almost completely cover-up her face.

Colleen Camp has a few enjoyable snarky moments in a part that was apparently written expressly for her, but she says the name of Ritter’s character, which is Charles, way too much. Most screenwriting instructors will tell you not to have dialogue that reiterates the names of the characters as people normally don’t speak that way in their regular everyday conversations and yet here Camp says ‘Charles’ in an almost repetitive fashion to the point that it gets distracting. I didn’t count how many times she said it during her conversation with him inside a store, but I did start counting when she brought him back to her apartment and during that brief four minutes she says it 29 times. If this was meant to be some sort of joke then it’s a pointless one and if not then Bogdanovich needs to take a course in screenwriting or at least learn how to write a script where something actually happens in it and not just filled with redundant dialogue.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Moon Pictures

Available: DVD

Noises Off (1992)

noises off 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Behind-the-scenes discord.

An eclectic group of actors put on a play that they take on tour. The play is a sort of door slamming British farce that is full of innuendos and misunderstandings and the film captures them during one particular scene of that play. It follows them as they rehearse that scene and then perform it live to an audience. It also shows the behind the scenes discord that develops between the cast and how this affects the performance of the scene, which culminates in a completely disastrous showing in Cleveland.

This should have been a really fun movie. It’s certainly an originally structured idea and it is slickly handled. It brings back the days of screwball comedy where things were funny just for the sake of being funny. Everything is contained and nothing is out of place or crude. In some ways it’s a refreshing change of pace.

The cast is certainly game and perfect for this type of comedy. Christopher Reeve and John Ritter come off best. Reeve seems to be playing his Clark Kent character only to a higher degree. Ritter does his Jack Tripper routine not only with the physical side, but also the nuance. His character tries very hard to be politically correct and it is amusing watching him never able to get to the point.

The film offers some light satire into the whole stage production process. Everything from the fragile temperaments of the actors to the high strung director is examined. It also takes some good shots at the plays themselves and how these stage comedies always seem to have such a high reliance on extreme coincidences.

There are some good laughs, but after a while it becomes a bit too much and exhausting to watch. The jokes and gags come so fast that if you blink you will miss some. There is also too much reliance on the frantic side of comedy, which eventually starts to lose its cuteness. The characters are placid and so are the situations. There is also the redundancy factor of having to see the same scene done over and over.

The end result is meticulously choreographed tripe and as silly as the play it seems to be mocking. It also has a glaring factual error. Michael Caine, the play’s director, talks about all the cities they have been too. He mentions Cairo, Missouri as one. There is a Cairo in Illinois but none in Missouri.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1992

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD