Charles Grodin

Sunburn (1979, Richard C. Sarafian)

Sunburn is a Farrah Fawcett star vehicle. It’s really Charles Grodin’s movie for the most part, but it’s Farrah Fawcett’s vehicle. She can be down home, she can be glamorous, she can be faithful when playing Grodin’s fake wife (which Grodin can’t), she can be adventurous, she can be dumb, she can be smart, she can be scantily clad, she can be topless in bed but with her back turned. Because sometimes Sunburn is all about the male gaze. Sometimes it’s all about gentle comedy. Sometimes it’s bad car chases. Sometimes it’s about puppies.

In addition to Grodin and Fawcett, Art Carney rounds out the lead characters. Grodin’s an insurance investigator, Fawcett is his presumable local model fake wife (he calls an agency to hire her and it’s made clear it isn’t an escort agency), Carney is the local P.I. buddy of Grodin. Carney’s got some cred, but Sunburn is boiling over with credibility cameos. There’s Keenan Wynn, Eleanor Parker, John Hillerman. Wynn is in one scene and has like two lines. Parker doesn’t even get a close-up. She’s the widow of the case and Grodin never gets around to interviewing her. Hillerman has a couple scenes and no character. William Daniels at least has some personality.

But then there’s Joan Collins. And she’s awesome. She’s got the promiscuous, unhappy older rich married lady part. “She must be forty!” Fawcett tells Grodin at one point, hoping to dissuade his interest without appearing jealous. Because Sunburn is nothing if not a product of its time. Three screenwriters–James Booth, Stephen Oliver, producer John Daly–and the best acted moments in the film are when Grodin and Carney are mugging it for the camera. Seriously. Carney sort of assumes the space in the film Collins does in the first act or so. It’s unfortunate. Collins is a lot more fun. Carney is cute, but it’s a nothing part. Collins has a nothing part and goes wild with it.

Shame Sarafian can’t direct it. He can’t direct any of it. He goes from mediocre to bad to worse. Geoffrey Foot’s editing is awful, but it’s obviously a lack of available footage. Sarafian can’t figure out how to direct any of it. Not interiors, especially not exteriors, not his actors, not action, nothing. In the second half, once the investigation is going full steam, there’s almost some attempts at style, but Foot’s editing ruins it.

Álex Phillips Jr.’s photography is solid. Acapulco looks nice. John Cameron’s poppy score is preferable to the top 40’s soundtrack, which actually is part of the story–Fawcett is always playing cassettes on her portable player.

Grodin’s occasionally got moments. Not many, not great ones, but some. He’s able to survive Sunburn. He’s doing his thing, he’s doing it turned up to eleven, and he’s able to get through.

As for Fawcett, after a slightly promising start, she gets a terrible arc for a star vehicle and there’s only so much her likability can get through. The film lays on a lot of backstory to get sympathy, along with a clumsiness subplot it immediately drops, but it’s all show. There aren’t any real scenes between her and Grodin, just exposition–which is initially fine because of their awkward bantering–and when she makes her second act transition to intrepid, scantily clad adventurer, there’s just no support for it. Sunburn stops pretending it’s going to give Fawcett anything to do.

The cast of Sunburn is strong enough to do this thing. It’s a noir spoof, or should be. Sarafian can’t do it, the script can’t do it. The actors could. Collins sort of does.

Oh, and the non-credibility cameo stars. Robin Clarke, Joan Goodfellow, Jack Kruschen, Alejandro Rey. Alejandro Rey is awesome. Robin Clarke tries really, really, really, really, really hard. And he sucks. Goodfellow’s bad but likable. Kruschen needed to be the best credibility cameo. Sunburn’s Mr. Big needs to be someone formidable, because there is actual danger.

So, an interesting film to dissect given its motives, but it’s dramatically inert due to technical incompetence.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian; screenplay by James Booth, John Daly, and Stephen Oliver, based on a novel by Stanley Ellin; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Geoffrey Foot; music by John Cameron; production designer, Ted Tester; produced by Daly and Gerald Green; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Farrah Fawcett (Ellie), Charles Grodin (Jake), Art Carney (Al), Joan Collins (Nera), Alejandro Rey (Fons), Robin Clarke (Karl), Joan Goodfellow (Joanna), Eleanor Parker (Mrs. Thoren), John Hillerman (Webb), William Daniels (Crawford), Keenan Wynn (Mark Elmes), Jack Kruschen (Gela), and Seymour Cassel (Dobbs).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 4: Guest Star.

Seems Like Old Times (1980, Jay Sandrich)

Seems Like Old Times is an enthusiastic homage to the screwball comedy. Most of the action takes place at Goldie Hawn’s house, where she’s trying to hide fugitive ex-husband Chevy Chase from current husband–and district attorney–Charles Grodin. She’s a public defender who takes in all of her clients, giving them jobs so they can provide comic relief in their interactions with Grodin and his straight-laced pals.

It’s not a successful homage to the screwball comedy, unfortunately. Neil Simon’s script doesn’t have the rapid fire dialogue. He lets Chase sleepwalk through the film. Chase has some charm and he’s got some decent moments, but he’s barely in the film. Old Times goes more on Hawn not having chemistry with Grodin than it does on rebuilding chemistry between Chase and Hawn. Maybe because the problem isn’t her marriage, but him being on the lamb. And barely in the movie.

But even if Simon’s script were full of rapid fire dialogue to give it that screwball comedy feel–outside the absurd yet domestic antics–director Sandrich wouldn’t know what to do with it. Because Simon occasionally goes have a phenomenal scene, usually involving Harold Gould’s judge. Gould’s doing a mild Groucho and it works beautifully. But Sandrich doesn’t direct his cast towards energy, quite the opposite. Grodin walks away with the middle half of the film just because he’s actually being active. Hawn’s reduced to sitting around and waiting for something to happen to her.

And even if Sandrich directed it all perfectly, Michael A. Stevenson wouldn’t cut it together well. He holds takes too long, holds reactions shots too long. Seems Like Old Times is too slow. Having a fast moving Marvin Hamlisch score only does so much, especially since it’s not a particularly good score. It’s got good moments, but overall, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The acting is all solid, some better than others. Hawn’s best when she’s not with Chase as Simon reduces her to the straight man while tranquilizing Chase to the point no one’s running the scene. She’s still Goldie Hawn, after all; she’s adorable. Chase’s funny. Grodin’s funny. Robert Guillaume’s funny. George Grizzard’s pretty good in a small part. Gould’s great. T.K. Carter’s kind of great; he’d be better if Simon gave him all strong material instead of occasionally falling back on young black kid with white folks humor.

Seems Like Old Times should be a lot better. But it’s still got some solid laughs, a lot of smiles and a reasonable amount of charm.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jay Sandrich; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Michael A. Stevenson; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Glenda Parks), Charles Grodin (Ira Parks), Chevy Chase (Nicholas Gardenia), Robert Guillaume (Fred), Harold Gould (Judge John Channing), Yvonne Wilder (Aurora), T.K. Carter (Chester), Judd Omen (Dex), Marc Alaimo (B.G.) and George Grizzard (Governor).


The Great Muppet Caper (1981, Jim Henson)

The Great Muppet Caper is rather easy to describe. It’s joyous spectacle. The film has four screenwriters and not a lot of story. Instead, it’s got some fabulous musical numbers. Director Henson really goes for old Hollywood musical, complete with Miss Piggy doing an aquatic number. It also has a bunch of great one-liners and visual gags. The finale isn’t some masterful heist sequence, it’s the Muppets being really funny in their environment and to one another. It’s delightful. Henson is primarily concerned with creating delight. Not entertaining. Being entertaining, being diverting, these two things are very different from creating delight.

Muppet Caper is also technically excellent–Oswald Morris’s photography, Ralph Kemplen’s editing. Henson directs the film in a matter-of-fact, expository nature, then turns it around and makes the viewing of the film engage with the acknowledgement of that exposition. Down to Diana Rigg explaining to Miss Piggy her dialogue is expository. It’s got to be Henson’s way of making the film appeal to both children and adults. Maybe more to adults and their children than the reverse. The human actors relish their roles–and how awesome is it the film pairs John Cleese and Joan Sanderson as the doddering English couple–and their enthusiasm carries over regardless of if a kid is going to fully appreciate it.

Though the best cameo might be Peter Falk just because he’s got an impossible monologue to deliver and he sells it perfectly.

The Great Muppet Caper is about singing and dancing and making people happy. And Charles Grodin having the hots for Miss Piggy. Sure, you need to be a little familiar with Charles Grodin to fully appreciate having him have the hots for Miss Piggy, but only to fully appreciate it. Muppet Caper only gently relies on its pop culture references. The Muppet Performers are so exceptionally good at what they do, at creating these wonderful felt creatures, the artistry is always there. Henson knows how to make this film; his confidence is stunning from the start.

Because it’s a delight from the start. The delight even gets it through some of the rougher songs–Joe Raposo does have a few great numbers, but the rest are mostly mediocre. Muppet Caper is awesome. Of course it’s awesome. It’s called The Great Muppet Caper and it’s directed by Jim Henson. What else would it be.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jim Henson; written by Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Jerry Juhl and Jack Rose; director of photography, Oswald Morris; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Joe Raposo; production designer, Harry Lange; produced by Frank Oz and David Lazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz as the Muppets and Caroll Spinney (Oscar The Grouch).

Starring Charles Grodin (Nicky Holiday), Diana Rigg (Lady Holiday), Jack Warden (Mike Tarkanian), Erica Creer (Marla), Kate Howard (Carla), Della Finch (Darla), John Cleese (Neville), Joan Sanderson (Dorcas), Robert Morley (A Gentleman), Peter Ustinov (A Lorry Driver) and Peter Falk (A Tramp).


Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)

From the first scene of Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski establishes the style he’s going to use until the big reveal at the end. He shoots a lot of over-the-shoulder shots with people moving around out of frame, causing a startling effect when the viewer finds out they’re now in a completely different location. He does it in the first scene with Elisha Cook Jr., who might also be there to encourage unease in the viewer.

The film runs over two hours, but never feels long. There’s a lengthy period at the beginning before Mia Farrow–the titular mother–gets pregnant, involving she and husband John Cassavetes moving into a new apartment. It’s sort of a relationship drama at that point. Cassavetes is the struggling actor, Farrow’s his supportive wife. Throw in the odd neighbors–Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer–and there’s nothing particularly ominous about the film.

Except Farrow has these dreams–three times in the film and Polanski does wonders with them. There’s never a question of whether what’s happening to Farrow is real or not; Polanski never has Farrow outright question it either. It’s like he cut all the scenes with her wondering if she’s crazy and just leaves the before and after. It creates a wonderful effect.

Farrow’s amazing, as is Cassavetes. Gordon’s good, but the role’s not hard. Blackmer and Ralph Bellamy are outstanding. At times, Polanski treats Blackmer like the only real person in the picture besides Farrow. Again, great result.

Rosemary’s fantastic.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roman Polanski; screenplay by Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Sam O’Steen and Bob Wyman; music by Krzysztof Komeda; production designer, Richard Sylbert; produced by William Castle; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mia Farrow (Rosemary Woodhouse), John Cassavetes (Guy Woodhouse), Ruth Gordon (Minnie Castevet), Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castevet), Maurice Evans (Hutch), Ralph Bellamy (Dr. Sapirstein), Victoria Vetri (Terry), Patsy Kelly (Laura-Louise), Elisha Cook Jr. (Mr. Nicklas), Emmaline Henry (Elise Dunstan), Charles Grodin (Dr. Hill), Hanna Landy (Grace Cardiff), Phil Leeds (Dr. Shand), D’Urville Martin (Diego) and Hope Summers (Mrs. Gilmore).


The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981, Joel Schumacher)

I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to properly discuss The Incredible Shrinking Woman. It’s an experience–Ned Beatty was in Network and he appeared in this one? Sorry. Anyway, according the IMDb, the movie might have made money–in fact, it might have even been a hit. I always assumed it was an enormous failure, but if it was a success… well, first, I’m very confused. Second–there is no second. I’m still perplexed by the idea The Incredible Shrinking Woman was a hit.

Apparently, there were some really bad comedies in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Shrinking Woman is one of them. It’s a gimmick comedy, but the idea of Lily Tomlin shrinking isn’t even the gimmick–her adventures at one foot tall are pretty tame–wow, a talk show. Instead, the gimmick is Lily Tomlin appearing in multiple roles. Besides the main character, she also plays the main character’s best friend. Or the neighbor lady who annoys her until she’s shrinking, then she relies on. The movie doesn’t really have character relationships–much less development–so you have to kind of guess what it’s trying to say.

But Tomlin’s bored with her roles. She’s visibly phoning in her performance on both of them, obtuse to the goings on–it’d be hard for her to be engaged with the material, but still… she’s sleepwalking through her own vanity project.

The script’s atrocious. I don’t think it got a single laugh out of me, only because it’s condemning materialistic American culture–but it’s doing so by making everyone emotionally removed. It’s impossible to care about the characters, much less their problems. They don’t even have real problems, because Beatty and John Glover aren’t just regular businessmen, they’re about to take over the world. It’s absurdist humor without much humor.

Glover mugs through his performance, which means he doesn’t appear to be exerting or embarrassing himself. Beatty doesn’t get away clean though. His character is terribly written and he’s in it a lot.

Charles Grodin plays Tomlin’s husband and his part in the narrative is one of the bigger defects. He kind of becomes the protagonist for a while, but not long enough for it to matter, which means it was all a waste of time–and Shrinking Woman is a less than ninety-minute movie. If it has to tread water to make its running time, there’s something wrong.

Joel Schumacher–making his theatrical, directorial debut–has a few good shots. It’s pretty bland, but the sets look cheap and unfinished, so what was he going to do. He starts it–relatively–strong; I was surprised when the mediocrity set in.

I’d heard of Shrinking Woman many, many years ago. Maybe even when I was a kid–probably then, because I still would have wanted to see it because of the title. Bad idea.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Schumacher; screenplay by Jane Wagner, based on a novel by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Bruce Logan; edited by Jeff Gourson; music by Suzanne Ciani; produced by Hank Moonjean; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Lily Tomlin (Pat Kramer / Judith Beasley), Charles Grodin (Vance Kramer), Ned Beatty (Dan Beame), Henry Gibson (Dr. Eugene Nortz), Elizabeth Wilson (Dr. Ruth Ruth), Mark Blankfield (Rob), Maria Smith (Concepcion), Pamela Bellwood (Sandra Dyson) and John Glover (Tom Keller).


Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest)

Some time in the 1990s, Charles Grodin said in an interview no one wanted him to do a sequel with Robert De Niro, only ones with him and dogs. Midnight Run is one of the last great comedies (though the genre seems to be on the rise again). It’s an ideal motion picture comedy, with Grodin and De Niro working perfectly together. But what’s so striking about the film isn’t so much their developing relationship, but De Niro’s lead role. Run is from De Niro’s choosy period (it’s hard, watching the film, to think he’d ever have a non-choosy period) and, in a lot of ways, it’s his finest work since Raging Bull. De Niro’s character is entirely defined by how he relates to other people–it always occurs to me we never get to see where he lives–and De Niro still turns it into this sweeping, affecting portrayal of an unchangeable man changed.

Of course, De Niro gets a lot of help from the script. The rest of Gallo’s career is so startlingly unspectacular, one has to wonder if any uncredited rewrites were done on Midnight Run (and by whom… though I guess director Brest is a solid suspect). Gallo’s obscenity-laden dialogue comes off, in terms of linguistic somersaults, like a Marx routine. It’s mesmerizing to watch De Niro rant. There’s one particular scene, with him on the phone, surrounded by staring people, vociferating curses–it’s just fantastic. De Niro brings a self-awareness to the character, even though the script gives him a lot to work with. Where Midnight Run stands out is in the intricate ground situation, De Niro’s character is brimming with angst–“silence and rage,” as Grodin puts it at one point–but we never get to it laid out for us. Gradually, as they become closer, De Niro reveals all to Grodin, but never with verbosity–and we already know almost everything he’s telling Grodin anyway. The significance is in his personal revelation.

Grodin’s the solid straight man. It’s a lot like other Grodin performances, except in his genuine empathy, which mixes well with his irksome behavior. It doesn’t astound or anything, but no one else could have played the role.

The supporting cast is remarkable. Yaphet Kotto and John Ashton both create these unparalleled characters (neither are, to my knowledge, remembered for their outstanding work). Ashton makes his dumb bounty hunter both vicious and funny, earning some degree of viewer sympathy; he’s not likable, but he’s endearing. Kotto’s FBI agent in pursuit has great lines, but also develops into this superb human being throughout the picture.

Dennis Farina’s great as the villain. He manages to be hilarious while still being terrifying. Joe Pantoliano’s good in a small, but visible, role. Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda are funny as two dimwitted, but effective, low-level mobsters.

As for Brest, it’s hard to know what to say about him. His direction is amazing, maybe best exemplified with a hilarious car chase and a harrowing trade-off. The car chase, though fantastic, never seems unrealistic and the trade-off, even though I’ve probably seen the film a dozen times, is always suspenseful. There’s also how he manages the film’s multiple locations as De Niro and Grodin move cross-country without ever losing the visual tone.

I’ve saved the last paragraph for Danny Elfman. Midnight Run is one of his early scores, his fifth or sixth. It might be his best. Midnight Run, from the opening title, clearly has a great, integral score. It’s impossible to think of the film without the score, without this score, from Elfman. It, just like most of the film, is perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Martin Brest; written by George Gallo; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Chris Lebenzon, Michael Tronick and Billy Weber; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Angelo P. Graham; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert De Niro (Jack Walsh), Charles Grodin (Jonathan Mardukas), Yaphet Kotto (FBI Agent Alonzo Mosely), John Ashton (Marvin Dorfler), Dennis Farina (Jimmy Serrano), Joe Pantoliano (Eddie Moscone), Richard Foronjy (Tony Darvo), Robert Miranda (Joey), Jack Kehoe (Jerry Geisler), Wendy Phillips (Gail), Danielle DuClos (Denise Walsh) and Philip Baker Hall (Sidney).


King Kong (1976, John Guillermin)

In 2001, the Academy awarded Dino De Laurentiis the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial award. The clips ran from the beginning of his career to the present–I can’t remember if Body of Evidence got a clip–and I kept waiting to see how they’d deal with Kong. The De Laurentiis produced remake is either forgotten or derided, probably most well-known as the background clips at the Universal Studios attraction. When they got to Kong, they used the scene where Kong attacks the elevated train. They used a pan and scan clip. I was mortified, but only because it was stunning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was going to not only use a pan and scan clip… but pick a mediocre scene to showcase. It was, I suppose, a clip on loan from the Universal Studios attraction.

John Guillermin’s King Kong has one bad sequence. When the island natives kidnap Jessica Lange off the ship, it doesn’t work. It’s not the writing, it’s the visual. Guillermin shoots it wrong (which seems impossible, given the rest of his direction in the film). It just doesn’t work. It seems too hackneyed. Otherwise, Kong‘s filmmaking is impeccable. There’s some iffy composite shots, but also some amazing ones. The editing for the scenes with miniatures is fantastic–whenever it’s a little doll standing in for Lange, the shot cuts about a frame before it’s too much.

The film’s a little strange in its uselessness. It’s not a remake intending to improve on the original or even retell it. This Kong is just a modernization–the whole oil company angle all of a sudden relevant again–and Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script is deceptively good. There’s some great dialogue in the film, particularly from Jeff Bridges, particularly during his scenes with Lange. The film’s approach to their pseudo-romance is fantastic.

There’s also a bunch of jokes in the script–apparently written to be of the “wink-wink” variety (Semple did script the Adam West Batman movie after all). Except every one of those lines goes to Charles Grodin and Grodin’s playing a jackass oil executive; in other words, all the lines work coming from Grodin, especially given how well he plays the jackass. The character is never likable, but he’s never entirely unlikable either–though he’s always despicable.

The supporting cast is solid–Rene Auberjonois, John Randolph and Ed Lauter especially. Bridges’s assured leading man performance is almost an anomaly in his career. Not many actors can make the giant monkey movie seem real, but Bridges does.

As for Lange, she’s real good. She got a lot of flack for the role–I remember reading somewhere All that Jazz saved her career and she only got that part because she was dating Fosse–but she’s good. She’s playing a narcissistic twit who turns out to have some emotional depth (but not enough to overpower the egoism). Lange’s even got one of the film’s great monologues and she delivers it well.

It’s strange to think of this Kong as having great monologues, but it does have a few. Semple’s a good screenwriter.

Kong‘s a prototype genre event picture, but it’s not a genre picture. It’s pre-genre. Guillermin doesn’t make a single reference to the original and the script only makes a couple, both early on. The sweeping, lush John Barry score frequently saves the picture. It makes scenes work.

But King Kong is sort of lost. It’s a Panavision event picture made before event pictures were released–pan and scan–on VHS to buy. It’d be another twelve years (Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade kicking it off) before event pictures became home video attractions too. Kong is meant to be a theatrical, uncontrolled by remote control, viewing experience. It’s peculiarly paced, deliberate and assured and visually stunning. Even when the composites are bad–it’s inexplicable why they didn’t shoot the final scene, with Kong versus the helicopters, with miniatures–the film still works.

King Kong will never get its due. For whatever reason, derogatory remakes get better notices than respectful ones. But it’s a fine night at the movies (about ten minutes in, I had to kill all the lights to get the experience going fully–with an overseas HD-DVD no less) and it’s great looking.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Guillermin; screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on a screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose and an idea by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; director of photography, Richard H. Kline; edited by Ralph E. Winters; music by John Barry; production designers, Mario Chiari and Dale Hennesy; produced by Dino De Laurentiis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Jack Prescott), Charles Grodin (Fred Wilson), Jessica Lange (Dwan), John Randolph (Captain Ross), Rene Auberjonois (Roy Bagley), Julius Harris (Boan), Jack O’Halloran (Joe Perko), Dennis Fimple (Sunfish) and Ed Lauter (Carnahan).


Taking Care of Business (1990, Arthur Hiller)

Hard as it is to believe, I’d sort of forgotten about Jim Belushi having a film career. For a while during Taking Care of Business, I kept thinking I’d seen him in something recently (which I haven’t), then I realized… his performance in the movie is a rip on Bill Murray. Expressions, tone of voice, mannerisms. They all play like Bill Murray.

Of course, I doubt Bill Murray could have done anything with the role either.

Taking Care of Business is one of those movies I watched a lot when I was twelve. The last time I wanted to watch it, almost ten years ago, someone stopped me. I never realized the favor he did me.

The problem is the script. Charles Grodin has absolutely nothing to do except be a jerk to Anne De Salvo, who’s very funny. Grodin’s playing his caricature here and Arthur Hiller can’t direct his redemption scene. Well, he doesn’t have one. Jill Mazursky and J.J. Abrams’s script is really terrible, just awful. It’d be weak as a sitcom.

Strangely, there is some excellent acting in the film from the supporting cast. Mako, in particular, is hilarious as the Japanese businessman who thinks Belushi is funny (it’s good someone does, I suppose–and there are a few funny Belushi moments, but most are obscene and obvious). Loryn Locklin’s character is probably the worst written, but she’s funny and appealing. It’s surprising she didn’t go on to anything. Hector Elizondo’s good too. Of course, there are some terrible performances too. Veronica Hamel and Gates McFadden are both the pits.

The script’s biggest problems have to do with plotting, but it’s also just dumb. Belushi’s a convict who escapes for the World Series and all the other prisoners band together to help him do it. It’s like a Disney prison movie–oh, wait a minute… it is a Disney (Hollywood Pictures) prison movie.

The signs of trouble start from the opening credits, which are poorly done animated ones.

Given how bad the movie is, I won’t even point out not having concluding scenes between the respective romantic couples was–narratively speaking–a pea-brained move. I just realized I didn’t get around to talking about the thirty-five minute first act either. Too bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller; written by Jill Mazursky and J.J. Abrams; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by William Reynolds; music by Stewart Copeland; produced by Geoffrey Taylor; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring James Belushi (Jimmy Dworski), Charles Grodin (Spencer Barnes), Anne De Salvo (Debbie Lipton), Loryn Locklin (Jewel Bentley), Stephen Elliott (Walter Bentley), Hector Elizondo (Warden Toolman), Veronica Hamel (Elizabeth Barnes), Mako (Mr. Sakamoto), Gates McFadden (Diane Connors), John de Lancie (Ted Bradford Jr.), Thom Sharp (Mike Steward), Ken Foree (J.B.) and John Marshall Jones (LeBradford Brown).


Last Resort (1986, Zane Buzby)

Last Resort is not a bad movie in any traditional way. It’s incompetent to the degree I don’t understand–nor can I imagine–how Charles Grodin ended up starring in it. Julie Corman–Roger’s wife–produced the film and, maybe, her attention to detail is why it looks like the film shot in Southern California for most of its scenes (it’s set on a tropical island). The water shots, however, appear to have been shot a public beach somewhere. While I’m far from an expert on judging film stock from bad DVD transfers… it looks like Last Resort shot on video (maybe better than half-inch, maybe not) and then got transferred over to film. It looks identical to an episode of “WKRP”–no knocks to the mighty ‘KRP, but it is a famous shot-on-video example. It’s Charles Grodin… maybe he made some bad investments or needed a new house, but I can’t imagine they were paying much….

And then the rest of the cast is interesting both in placing the movie’s “artistic” movement. It’s from the writers of Revenge of the Nerds, which–I’m fairly sure–shot on film, but the cast isn’t quite as first-rate as Nerds. While it was interesting to see Brenda Bakke again (Bakke disappeared in the mid-1990s, never recognized for her outstanding performance on “American Gothic”), I mostly noticed Mario Van Peebles. Bakke’s barely in it and it is funny to wonder if Clint Eastwood screened Last Resort when considering Van Peebles for Heartbreak Ridge, but Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman are in it too. Hartman’s got a lousy restrained role, but Lovitz is actually really funny.

When the movie started, the terrible production quality screamed, but it seemed like a really cheap Charles Grodin vehicle. He had some funny lines, some funny Charles Grodin rants, but then they got to the island and the script stopped making any sense at all. It’s an eighty-four minute movie (the last forty move super fast thank goodness) but I was constantly confused. It’s an exceptional example of incoherent storytelling and general terribleness. It’s the kind of thing “USA Up All Night” played when they ran out of money.

But I do think I’ll read Grodin’s autobiography now, because I need to understand this film… how it was made, how someone got a bank to lend someone else money for this film… I’m perplexed. I mean, I couldn’t turn it off–I had to see it to believe it. It’d have been unimaginable otherwise. It’s a unicorn or something.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zane Buzby; written by Steve Zacharias and Jeff Buhai; directors of photography, Stephen Katz and Alex Nepomniaschy; edited by Gregory Scherick; music by Steve Nelson and Thom Sharp; produced by Julie Corman; released by Concorde.

Starring Charles Grodin (George Lollar), Robin Pearson Rose (Sheila Lollar), John Ashton (Phil Cocoran), Megan Mullally (Jessica Lollar), Christopher Ames (Brad Lollar), Scott Nemes (Bobby Lollar), Mario Van Peebles (Pino), Jon Lovitz (Bartender), Phil Hartman (Jean-Michel), David Mirkin (Walter Ambrose) and Brenda Bakke (Veroneeka).


The Ex (2007, Jesse Peretz)

The Ex reminds me of a 1980s comedy, but maybe not. Maybe more a 1990s comedy. I knew it did, but I couldn’t figure out why, until I realized it’s all about the information given the viewer. The Ex starts in New York and moves to Ohio in the first seven and a half minutes and there’s no establishing and no confusion. Regardless of the title and the trailer–the film’s original title, Fast Track, is better but not quite right either–the film doesn’t have a gimmick. It’s a slight, amusing comedy about a couple orienting themselves with a baby. I wasn’t expecting Amanda Peet to be in the film much as a lead, but she and Braff are really partners. Their days are juxtaposed and The Ex has got a really nice present action too–it takes place over about a week. Five days, not seven.

As a leading comedic actor, Zach Braff is amazing. I’ve never seen him in anything before (I tried watching “Scrubs,” but after five minutes I was dislocating my shoulder going for the remote) but from the first second, he runs this film. I can’t even think of a comparable leading comedic actor (except maybe late 1970s Chevy Chase). It’s a joy to watch him. But then Peet shows up and she’s got her own thing going and she’s fantastic too. I always say how much I like her but before The Ex, I’d only seen her in two things. Now it’s three. They’re perfect together.

Jason Bateman. Remember when one thought “The Hogan Family” hearing his name? Now, it’d be “Arrested Development.” It’s never going to be The Ex one thinks about, but it’s going to be something in the future. Bateman acts with this ease and self-assurance–it’s like a comedic De Niro (back when De Niro was good).

Maybe the performances are why The Ex works as well as it does. Charles Grodin shows up as Peet’s father and he’s got some funny moments, but mostly it’s just a Charles Grodin supporting role. Donal Logue’s funny in his bit. But the three leads command the viewer’s attention like leads are supposed to command a viewer’s attention.

The Ex is so fleet-footed it races past some bad traditional comedy snags, but also some requisite storytelling ones. A lot is inferred in a few moments, including things like character motivation. I think the filmmakers realized it too, because they take care of it real quick at the end.

I’d complain it should go longer, but the film’s thin–it has maybe three subplots, with one of them contributing heavily to the main action–and it gets out at just the right time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jesse Peretz; written by David Guion and Michael Handelman; director of photography, Tom Richmond; edited by Tricia Cooke, Jeff McEvoy and John Michel; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, John Paino; produced by Anthony Bergman, Marc Butan, Anne Carey and Ted Hope; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Zach Braff (Tom Reilly), Amanda Peet (Sofia Kowalski), Jason Bateman (Chip Sanders), Charles Grodin (Bob Kowalski), Mia Farrow (Amelia Kowalski), Donal Logue (Don Wollebin) and Amy Poehler (Carol Lane).


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