Jennifer O’Neill

Scanners (1981, David Cronenberg)

About a half hour into Scanners, the film starts to run out of its initial steam. Director Cronenberg (who also scripted) opens the film with some dynamic set pieces–lead Stephen Lack mind frying a mean woman, Lack on the run from goons, Patrick McGoohan chaining Lack down and torturing him (apparently), and Michael Ironside blowing up some guy’s head with his mind. Scanners is a lot right off. Oh, and then a car chase action sequence after the head explosion. Again, it’s a lot.

And then it’s time for the first exposition dump. McGoohan is trying to find “good” Scanners, who are telepaths, like Lack. Ironside is trying to find bad ones. Both want them as biological weapons, McGoohan just wants to sell them to humans. Ironside wants to subjugate the humans. Not all that information comes out at the first info dump, mostly just McGoohan bickering with security chief Lawrence Dane. Dane doesn’t trust McGoohan, but Cronenberg wants the viewer to side against Dane. It’s a confusing turn of events at the end, just because McGoohan’s not a sympathetic character and Dane seems square but level-headed.

Then Lack comes in and goes on a secret mission around Canada as a double agent to join Ironside’s group. Previous to this point in his life story, Lack’s character had been homeless. Now he’s a well-dressed Canadian, kind of a maple syrup James Bond. Only he’s not particularly good at the secret agent stuff. Eventually he meets a girl Scanner–Jennifer O’Neill–who he actually treats terribly and roughly, which is a little disconcerting at times because apparently Lack is supposed to be sympathetic and likable. He’s not, of course, because his performance has all the life of a once damp towel. Same for O’Neill. Same for McGoohan. Dane gives the film’s best performance almost by default.

Well, except for Ironside. I mean, Cronenberg front loads the film with action. He saves some effects work for the grand finale, but there’s no action to it. There’s exposition, there’s pointless contrivance. Cronenberg keeps throwing out big revelations to try to get some emotional connection to the characters, but they’re impervious–Ironside should be intellectually sympathetic but Cronenberg can’t swing it. He really does rely on Lack instead and Lack crumbles, time and again.

But until the late second act, Ironside’s a perfectly good thuggish villain. Sure, he’s also a millionaire war profiteer but it’s Canada, it’s just how Canadian millionaire war profiteering Scanners who operate out of desolate office parks operate.

Nice photography from Mark Irwin, some occasionally strong editing from Ronald Sanders. Once O’Neill and Lack have teamed up in their chemistry-free quest for… it’s unclear. Cronenberg has at least two jumbo red herrings in the script just to keep things moving, which might work at ninety minutes but at over a hundred it’s a slog.

Howard Shore’s music is competent, occasionally Hitchcockian, but most often too much. Cronenberg never really gets a sense of the locations in the film and Shore’s music defaults to filling in mood. But it’s not good at filling in mood.

Really, until O’Neill shows up and becomes Lack’s Eva Marie Saint, Scanners can almost get through. Cronenberg’s got Dane, he’s got Ironside. Sure, Lack’s vacant but maybe he’s supposed to be vacant in that poorly acted way. The strange part about the film is how the first act’s well-plotted. Shame the rest of it is either aimless or misguided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Cronenberg; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Ronald Sanders; music by Howard Shore; produced by Claude Hèroux; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Stephen Lack (Cameron Vale), Patrick McGoohan (Dr. Paul Ruth), Jennifer O’Neill (Kim Obrist), Michael Ironside (Darryl Revok), Lawrence Dane (Braedon Keller), and Robert A. Silverman (Benjamin Pierce).


Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star (1986, Ron Satlof)

There’s a lot of camp value to The Case of the Shooting Star. During William Katt’s investigation scenes, his clothes get more and more absurd. At one point he’s wearing a jacket with a tiger on it. Then he gets sidekick and flirtation partner Wendy Crewson, who wears really loud eighties pants, and it becomes more about their banter.

But the camp factor is more than just Katt, it’s the plot–Joe Penny’s a hotheaded action movie actor-director (Joe Penny playing Clint Eastwood)–and it’s how they keep making a big deal out of shooting in New York when the movie was obviously filmed somewhere else (Toronto). Only it must have shot somewhere else too because the tough neighborhood set has palm trees in the background.

And Alan Thicke plays a talk show host. What’s not campy about Alan Thicke playing a talk show host.

Even without the camp value though, Shooting Star’s a pretty solid diversion. Katt’s likable, especially with Crewson. Thicke’s good, Penny’s good enough. There are a lot of decent supporting turns–Ron Glass, Ross Petty, Mary Kane, J. Kenneth Campbell. Opposing counsel David Ogden Stiers seems a little better this time out. He pretends to take it a little more seriously. And Jennifer O’Neill is great as an old friend of Perry Mason. She gets a lot to do in the first act and she’s fantastic. The script doesn’t give her as much to do later, which is too bad, but she’s solid to the melodramatic finish.

Speaking of the script, Anne Collins does an excellent job juggling all the characters and all the expository dialogue. It’s not a great murder mystery, but it’s smooth and digestible writing.

Technically, the movie’s a bit of a disaster because of different film stocks. It’s even worse because camera setups figure into the story and so Shooting Star invites the viewer to think about how poorly the setups are working in this movie. Satlof’s direction isn’t as bad as I was expecting. He’s still weak on coverage, but he is giving his actors more space to move around here.

Oh. Yeah. Speaking of the lead actors. Burr’s good. He’s got some character stuff, not always successful but usually, he’s got the lawyer stuff, not always successful but usually, and he’s got a decent enough teleplay to get him through. Unfortunately, Barbara Hale gets nothing to do in this entry. Otherwise, it delivers on all promise a Perry Mason TV movie can offer.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Anne Collins, based on a story by Dean Hargrove and Joel Steiger and characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner; director of photography, Héctor R. Figueroa; edited by David Solomon; music by Dick DeBenedictis; produced by Barry Steinberg; aired by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Raymond Burr (Perry Mason), Barbara Hale (Della Street), William Katt (Paul Drake Jr.), Joe Penny (Robert McCay), Wendy Crewson (Michelle Benti), Jennifer O’Neill (Alison Carr), Alan Thicke (Steve Carr), Lisa Howard (Sharon Loring), Ross Petty (Peter Towne), Mary Kane (Kate Huntley), Ron Glass (Eric Brenner), J. Kenneth Campbell (Ray Anderson), David Ogden Stiers (D.A. Michael Reston) and Ivan Dixon (the judge).


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