Catherine Mary Stewart

The Last Starfighter (1984, Nick Castle)

The Last Starfighter gets a long way on affability. Lead Lance Guest is nothing if not affable. Robert Preston plays an affable alien grifter. Dan O’Herlihy, completely covered in makeup, is affable as Guest’s alien co-pilot. And the whole concept of the thing–video game wunderkind Guest gets transported to outer space to fight a galactic war–is affable.

And Starfighter needs that affability. It’s a long movie without any good villains (Norman Snow tries to chew scenery but director Castle is too busy trying to keep the questionable plot going) and without any engaging special effects sequences. The Last Starfighter’s special effects are almost entirely CGI. Weak CGI. They don’t mix with the live action, appearing–at best–to be cartoonish. At worst, they’re laughable. Ron Cobb’s production design never scores when the film’s up in space. Arguably the earthbound stuff, set in a trailer park, is fine. At least the trailer park has a natural flow; the space stuff is just big, relatively empty sets and a bunch of nonsense.

Because of the CGI, there’s no way to make Starfighter any better. The special effects are an albatross. Actually, when they do practical on Preston’s (idiotically conceived) “star car”–it’s a car, it’s a space ship–it looks terrible. Castle doesn’t have a knack for special effects direction. He does better on solid ground and so does cinematographer King Baggot. Baggot’s photography is perfectly fine, but once he gets into outer space and can’t do anything with the silly sets or to match the CGI sequences… well, it pales in comparison to the Earth stuff.

Craig Safan’s music is enthusiastic more than anything else. It’s occasionally effective too.

As far as the acting goes, Preston’s easily the best. He’s got a silly, fun character and he sells it. Guest is okay in the lead. He’s likable, which is most important, and sympathetic, which Castle wants to be important. Starfighter, with real special effects, might have some dramatic heft. Without, it doesn’t. But Guest still does more than all right.

O’Herlihy has a good time, which goes a long way. The alien stuff is thinly written and badly designed, so there was only going to be so far he could take it. He’s a goof, just covered in makeup. Preston’s got no makeup and, therefore, is much more expressive and successful in his goofiness.

As the girlfriend, Catherine Mary Stewart is usually likable. She’s not good, but she’s usually likable. Her part could be a lot better too. Chris Hebert is effective as Guest’s annoying little brother; he gets some of the nice comedy scenes opposite Guest. Barbara Bosson is completely wasted as Guest’s mother.

The Last Starfighter is a bit of a chore. But an affable one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Nick Castle; written by Jonathan R. Betuel; director of photography, King Baggot; edited by Carroll Timothy O’Meara; music by Craig Safan; production designer, Ron Cobb; produced by Gary Adelson and Edward O. Denault; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lance Guest (Alex Rogan), Dan O’Herlihy (Grig), Catherine Mary Stewart (Maggie Gordon), Chris Hebert (Louis Rogan), Barbara Bosson (Jane Rogan), Norman Snow (Xur) and Robert Preston (Centauri).


Weekend at Bernie’s (1989, Ted Kotcheff)

What’s most admirable about Weekend at Bernie’s, outside the acting, has to be the narrative structure. The first third takes place before the titular weekend, establishing all the characters, then the rest of it takes place over a twenty or so hour period.

Robert Klane’s script changes gears during the film’s final third too. Instead of relying on jokes, he and director Kotcheff go for morbid sight gags. They might be the best jokes in the film, but they’re rather cheap. The acting’s still good for these parts, however, and there’s still François Protat’s gorgeous photography. Protat makes Bernie’s feel like a vacation at the beach; there’s even some cloudy shots inferring the passage of time. They might be unintentional, but they work great.

As for the acting… Catherine Mary Stewart has the film’s most “real” part. She’s Jonathan Silverman’s love interest and finds herself surrounded by the lunacy. Silverman’s sturdy and likable in the ostensible lead role, but Andrew McCarthy’s a lot funnier as his obnoxious sidekick.

Terry Kiser plays Bernie, both alive and dead. If you don’t know the film’s concept, it’s very high brow. Silverman and McCarthy escort their dead boss around a vacation island, pretending he’s alive. Anyway, Kiser’s great in both stages, but as the corpse… he’s really impressive.

As far as supporting performances, Don Calfa’s really good. The rest are fine. Except Catherine Parks; she could be a lot better.

Bernie’s is not a smart comedy. It’s a dumb one with some smart parts.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; written by Robert Klane; director of photography, François Protat; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Andy Summers; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Victor Drai; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jonathan Silverman (Richard Parker), Andrew McCarthy (Larry Wilson), Catherine Mary Stewart (Gwen Saunders), Don Calfa (Paulie), Louis Giambalvo (Vito), Catherine Parks (Tina), Gregory Salata (Marty) and Terry Kiser (Bernie Lomax).


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