Savoy Pictures

Serial Mom (1994, John Waters)

Serial Mom gets a lot of mileage out of its concept–Kathleen Turner’s June Cleaver as a serial killer (actually, spree killer)–before it runs out of gas. Sadly, once it does, all of the plot problems become clear. But then Waters brings it to court and Mom is reinvigorated. Turner’s not special during the first hour or so, but she’s fantastic for the last third, when she’s defending herself in court.

Waters’s script seems incredibly fast and loose (like parent-teacher conferences being called a PTA meeting). For a while, he’s able to get away with it as he introduces all these annoying sitcom-esque characters for Turner to murder. Then he brings in two lengthy chase sequences back-to-back and it crumbles.

It doesn’t help the second one involves Justin Whalin, who’s simply awful in the movie. Waters can get away with a lot of goofy casting (Suzanne Somers, Traci Lords–Bess Armstrong’s in it way too little) but Whalin’s incompetent.

The supporting cast is good. Sam Waterston’s the hapless husband, (way too old for high school) Matthew Lillard is the teenage son, Ricki Lake’s the daughter with self-image problems. Lake’s performance is a tad broad, but she’s still rather likable.

Robert M. Stevens’s photography is good–he and Waters use a vibrant color scheme (Baltimore’s probably never looked so nice)–and Basil Poledouris’s score is fun.

Unfortunately, Waters’s closing gag ruins the film. He can’t seem to decide what he wants to do with it.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by John Waters; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Janice Hampton and Erica Huggins; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by John Fiedler and Mark Tarlov; released by Savoy Pictures.

Starring Kathleen Turner (Beverly R. Sutphin), Sam Waterston (Eugene Sutphin, D.D.S.), Ricki Lake (Misty Sutphin), Matthew Lillard (Chip Sutphin), Scott Morgan (Detective Pike), Walt MacPherson (Detective Gracey), Justin Whalin (Scotty Barnhill), Patricia Dunnock (Birdie), Lonnie Horsey (Carl Pageant), Mink Stole (Dottie Hinkle) and Mary Jo Catlett (Rosemary Ackerman).


No Escape (1994, Martin Campbell)

No Escape opens with this lovely piece of music from composer Graeme Revell. It’s sort of the film’s theme music and it doesn’t fit at all with the action or sci-fi elements integral to the plot. The film’s this odd mix of genres and filmmaking approaches. At times it’s anti-climatic to such an incredible point, it’s almost like the point is to keep the viewer uneasy.

Some of the strange plotting might be because it’s from a novel and the screenwriters are keeping as much of that source novel as possible. Or not. I haven’t read the novel.

But it’s an odd type of action film.

Campbell casts No Escape quite well. He gets a great scene out of practically every actor. Lance Henriksen and Jack Shepard do some excellent work here, as do Ernie Hudson and Don Henderson. Stuart Wilson runs hot and cold as the villain. He’s never quite frightening and the more forced lunatic moments fail… but there are occasionally these quiet ones and they work.

Kevin Dillon’s okay; his part is the weakest written. Except Michael Lerner. Though Lerner’s just goofy overall.

As for lead Ray Liotta… Liotta spends most of the film being a disaffected action hero. But it all works out—even though it’s obvious, when he finally does get emotional, there’s a significant resonance.

Campbell’s direction is excellent. Phil Meheux’s photography and Terry Rawlings’s editing are essential.

No Escape sort of takes itself too seriously. And that sincerity makes it work.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Campbell; screenplay by Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross, based on a novel by Richard Herley; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Savoy Pictures.

Starring Ray Liotta (Robbins), Lance Henriksen (The Father), Stuart Wilson (Marek), Kevin Dillon (Casey), Kevin J. O’Connor (Stephano), Don Henderson (Killian), Ian McNeice (King), Jack Shepherd (Dysart), Michael Lerner (The Warden) and Ernie Hudson (Hawkins).


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