Synopsis: A small-time film promoter releases a kitschy horror film during the Cuban Missile Crisis
Stars: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub, Kellie Martin, Jesse Lee Soffer, Lucinda Jenney
Director: Joe Dante
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Occupying the softest spot in my critical hard heart, Matinee is a real joy to watch no matter how many times I come across it. I think Joe Dante’s 1993 love letter to B-movie producers and their schlocky gimmicks is especially effective for anyone that has a love of cinema’s bygone era. This is a time when film-going was true escapism and if you weren’t dressing up to see a road show presentation of the big movie at the time, you were huddled in a theater for an all day line-up of classic serials, cartoons, newsreel footage, and perhaps a horror film with men in rubber suits.
Matinee takes place in Florida right on the brink of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Army brat Gene (Simon Fenton) is the man of the house while his dad is overseas and keeps a good eye on his little brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer). An avid movie-goer at the local town theater, Gene is thrilled that uber producer Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis, Arachnophobia, Stella) is previewing his new film Mant! for one day only. Together with his friend Stan (Omri Katz) and two girls they are interested in (Lisa Jakub and Kellie Martin), Gene is in for an interesting screening when jealous rivals, malfunctioning gimmicks, a feisty theater manager, a tagalong younger brother, and the possibility of nuclear war at any moment threaten to keep the credits from rolling.
I enjoyed that Dante (who started off his career working for Roger Corman, a schlock impresario in his own right) gently lampooned the crazy effects famous B-movie producer William Castle thought up to help sell his movie. From seats that gave you a shock at the right moment to fake bugs flying in the audience, Goodman’s warm Woolsey (like Castle) thinks that the entertainment doesn’t need to be only up on the screen…it can go into the audience as well!
This is one of those nice bits ‘o fun that they just don’t make anymore: PG rated mostly family friendly entertainment that has a little smattering of something for everyone. If it’s lost a tiny bit over the years in my older eyes, it’s only because the wonder of being a 13 year old movie nerd has worn off a smidge. Still, there’s plenty of goings-on to keep you interested and the attention to period detail in the production design is quite fun.
If you can get your hands on a copy of the film it’s worth it to see Dante’s reverential ode to the types of movies that went out of fashion as audiences became more discerning. It’s the next best thing to actually being there and getting that shock to your seat.