Kim Thomson

The Tall Guy (1989, Mel Smith)

Mel Smith is a stunningly inept director. Especially for comedy. Though, given its awkward flashback montages, lack of supporting character resolutions, impromptu musical number, and just over ninety minute runtime, it sure seems like there might be a longer version of The Tall Guy out there. As is, The Tall Guy is way too skinny. So maybe it’s not all Smith’s fault. Or maybe it’s just editor Dan Rae’s fault. Maybe Smith directed a bunch of good comedy and Rae just screwed it all up. Maybe there’s some explanation for why it doesn’t work.

Because lead Jeff Goldblum is really cute. He’s really cute with romantic interest Emma Thompson. The movie’s not cute, but they’re cute. They carry a lot with this movie and don’t get anything in return. Richard Curtis’s script short changes them just as much as everyone else. Including third-billed Rowan Atkinson, who’s an inflated cameo. It’s weird. So maybe there’s a good reason for it.

It’s the fairly familiar tale of American actor Goldblum trying to make it in London. He can’t get any parts because he’s too tall apparently, which isn’t clear for a while because he’s employed at the start of the movie. He works for Atkinson, who’s a bastard physical comedian with a hit stage show. Goldblum’s his sidekick. And Goldblum doesn’t seem to have any ambition past being Atkinson’s sidekick. He just wishes Atkinson would be nice to him. And he wishes his roommate Geraldine James would at least have the courtesy of bringing home a dude to buff who isn’t going to drink Goldblum’s orange juice. Goldblum’s a man of few pleasures, orange juice is one of them.

Until Goldblum has to get his seasonal allergies resolved because it’s screwing up his performance—only it’s not, it’s just getting him laughs and Atkinson is a prima donna who can’t handle anyone else getting laughs. That single tidbit of character motivation for Atkinson is more than Goldblum or anyone else in the film gets. Anyway, Goldblum has to go to the doctor, there he meets nurse Thompson and falls for her immediately. The reminder of the first act is Goldblum getting shots for his allergies from Thompson, not asking her out, whining about not asking her out to roommate James, cue comic bit about what James’s lover of the moment is doing (usually hidden from view and humorously contorted), repeat.

Once Goldblum does go out with Thompson, they immediately get physical in a raucous love-making scene you know is supposed to be funny but it’s really more just dumb. It also results in Goldblum losing his job with Atkinson, which kicks off the second act proper as Thompson will soon tell Goldlbum he’s got to get another job because she’s not dating some bum actor.

Now all of a sudden it’s supposed to be believable Goldblum’s employable as a professional stage actor. This time the absurdity of his potential projects generates the charm, as the film phases out Thompson and Goldbum’s romance, then Thompson almost entirely. How’s Goldblum feel about it? Who knows. He doesn’t have the depth of a head shot.

Affable performances all around, though by the third act you’ve got to wonder how Goldblum and Thompson kept a straight-face through the disastrous third act. Professionalism, pass it on.

Atkinson always seems like he’s about to be really funny and it never pays off.

Anna Massey is fun as Goldblum’s agent.

There’s a poppy score from Peter Brewis. It’s rather energetic, which is something since the film manages to drag even at ninety-two minutes.

Adrian Biddle’s photography is solid.

Smith could be worse at composing shots. He could be as bad at it as he is directing actors.

The Tall Guy’s problematic execution give the film its charm through the first half plus a few, but then once it shatters that charm—intentionally—it’s got nothing to replace it with. Not in the acting, writing, or directing. It’s a bummer for Goldblum, Thompson, and Atkinson; they deserve something for keeping the film afloat. Against some considerable odds.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mel Smith; screenplay by Richard Curtis; director of photography, Adrian Biddle; edited by Dan Rae; music by Peter Brewis; production designer, Grant Hicks; produced by Paul Webster; released by Virgin Vision.

Starring Jeff Goldblum (Dexter King), Emma Thompson (Kate Lemon), Rowan Atkinson (Ron Anderson), Emil Wolk (Cyprus Charlie), Geraldine James (Carmen), and Kim Thomson (Cheryl).



Murder 101 (1991, Bill Condon)

It’s kind of amazing how much self-depreciation can turn something around. Not to spoil Murder 101‘s usage–it’s actually not the spoiler for the mystery–but think of The Muppet Movie. Almost the entire running time of the movie, there are frequent acknowledgments of the absurdity of the TV movie thriller genre. Murder 101‘s charm, in the end, is how dumb a lot of it gets….

The story, involving a writing professor (of a one year long course, which seems a little off for undergraduate writing courses) whose assignment of planning a murder for his mystery writing class, has a very TV feel to it. Pierce Brosnan both brings a cinematic quality to the film–so does Raphael Sbarge, which is strange, given Sbarge hasn’t been in theatrical releases since the mid-1980s–and makes Murder 101 seem silly. Brosnan’s performance is fine, but it reminds a lot of “Remington Steele,” down to the wife’s name. There’s an even split between trying hard to overact and acting. If that sentence just gave away the end twist, I apologize. But it’s worth sitting through for it.

Murder 101 establishes its mystery gradually, which gives the movie a real narrative feel–there’s a definite first act, introducing Brosnan back to teaching his course (only one, apparently) after a long sabbatical. Once the mystery starts, then everyone becomes a suspect–because everyone has to be a suspect in a television movie thriller. Except for the resolution, which isn’t particularly interesting, it’s compelling enough. It’s TV fare. But it always seems slightly more self-aware than most television movies allow themselves. Bill Condon’s direction–except when he apes Hitchcock’s low angles–is decent. There’s some visible intelligence at work with the movie. So when it’s just too stupid at times, it seems wrong. I’m not sure if that self-awareness covers the idiotic portrayal of college life, but I’ll give Condon the benefit of the doubt. The one scene I had the most problems with–people falling asleep at a poetry reading–became mildly more possible once I realized I’ve never been to a mandatory attendance undergrad reading.

On to Sbarge. He has this deceptive quality about him, like he’s easy to dismiss, but his performance is solid. He’s a suspect, of course, so he’s got a couple levels to work on… but he’s good. And made me feel bad I ho-hummed when I read his name in the opening titles.

The rest of the supporting cast is okay. Dey Young and Antoni Corone have their high and low points. Kim Thomson’s bad–her big scene is Condon’s worst, just because it’s so stupid. Mark L. Taylor, who’s a fine actor, gets stuck with a bad character.

Murder 101 is a good TV movie, from back when the cable companies were just getting started airing them (this era of relative quality lasted something like two and a half years). The twist is good enough, so well-played, it’s hard to know how much of it was supposed to be a joke.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Condon; screenplay by Condon and Roy Johansen; director of photography, Stephen M. Katz; edited by Stephen Lovejoy; music by Philip Giffin; production designer, Richard Sherman; produced by Oscar L. Costo; released by the USA Network.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (Charlie Lattimore), Dey Young (Laura Lattimore), Antoni Corone (Mike Dowling), Raphael Sbarge (Robert Miner), Kim Thomson (Francesca Lavin), Mark L. Taylor (Henry Potter), J. Kenneth Campbell (Tim Ryder) and Todd Merrill (John Defazio).


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