31 Days to Scare ~ Thinner (1996) 

The Facts:

Synopsis: An obese attorney is cursed by a gypsy to rapidly and uncontrollably lose weight.

Stars: Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna, Lucinda Jenney, Michael Constantine, Kari Wuhrer, Stephen King, Walter Bobbie

Director: Tom Holland

Rated: R

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  Starting with the release and huge success of Carrie in 1976, author Stephen King has enjoyed seeing the profits for numerous adaptations of his work come his way.  Studios began scrambling to buy the rights to his work and bring his tales of terror to life which is how we’ve come to have solid titles like The Shining, Christine, Cujo, Firestarter, The Dead Zone, and Misery in our libraries.  To talk about the good adaptions, you must also talk about the bad and King’s work has produced far more duds than hits…such is the case with Thinner from 1996.

Originally published under King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, Thinner hit bookshelves in 1984 and when it was discovered the King was Bachman isn’t wasn’t long before a studio attached themselves to the grim morality tale.  Condensing the 300+ page novel to 90 minute movie, director and co-screenwriter Tom Holland (who also wrote Psycho II and directed Fright Night) removed the, uh, fat from King’s tome and produced a slick but slack horror thriller that is passable entertainment but feels like everything about it was second-hand.

When overweight attorney Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) accidentally runs over and kills an old gypsy woman and then gets off scott free, he incurs the wrath of a gypsy king (Michael Constantine, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) who puts a curse and him and others that covered up the crime.  Each person cursed has their own personal hell to endure and Billy’s is that no matter how much he eat,s he continues to lose weight at a rapid pace.  At first, that’s good news for the man that has tried for years to shed pounds and his beleaguered wife (Lucinda Jenney, Matinee) who has kept him on a strict diet.  When the weight loss begins to accelerate, and his friends start dying in horrible ways, Billy must track down the gypsy clan to get the curse reversed.

Arguably, there’s a nice concept at the heart of Thinner and had this been given a bit more money and prestige I’d imagine it could have been a sleeper hit.  The problem is that Holland never quite figures out is how to make his characters (any of them) the least bit sympathetic so we have someone to be invested in.  There’re literally no “good” people to be found, everyone has an ulterior motive to their actions or spits their lines out with such overstimulated venom you have a hard time feeling sorry when they are killed off.

It also doesn’t help the leading man is such a bore.  Burke had infamously taken over for Peter Weller in RoboCop 3 and even under that heavy costume with his face obscured he managed to overact.  He does the same thing here, saddled with a fat suit and unconvincing make-up at the beginning and eventually turning skeletal as he continues to lose fat and muscle.  I’m not sure if the make-up did this to him but Burke has this smile/grimace on his face when he’s heavier that is truly unnerving…and not in the way Holland intended.

If I’ve forgotten to mention Joe Mantegna (House of Games) up until this point he should count himself lucky.  As a tricky mobster client of Billy’s, Mantegna plays up the wise guy role to the point of parody and acts as a silly means to an end in helping Billy connect the dots to the origin of the gypsy curse.  If there’s one actor I didn’t mind, it’s the always reliable Jenney who seems to know she’s in a turkey so opts for such a small performance that it has the effect of letting her scene partners look like they’re overacting.

Not surprisingly, this was a huge box office bomb but it didn’t stop the King adaptations from coming.  It would be three years before The Green Mile would be released and in 2017 there was the one two punch of the remake of IT and the dandy Gerald’s Game for Netflix.  It’s clear the best was behind the King work at that time and while Thinner wasn’t bad enough to make studios think twice about taking a dip in the King swamp it’s prospects of being much better are keenly felt two decades later.

Movie Review ~ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A Portokalos family secret brings the beloved characters back together for an even bigger and Greeker wedding.

Stars: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, John Stamos, Rita Wilson, Louis Mandylor, Gia Carides, Elena Kampouris

Director: Kirk Jones

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I actually did something I don’t normally do when preparing for seeing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2…I didn’t go back and watch the first one until after I had seen the sequel.  It had been well over a decade since I’d seen the out-of-nowhere-blockbuster original (and yes, I saw it twice in the theaters) and since there was such a huge gap between the two films I wanted to see what going into this one a little foggy on details would be like.

It’s been fourteen years since My Big Fat Greek Wedding became the little indie that could, produced for $6 million dollars it wound up grossing around $368 million after the international box office returns were factored in. The film set all sorts of box office records, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and inspired a host of similar titles to get the greenlight…as well as an ill-advised sitcom adaptation starring most of the stars of the movie that didn’t make it past a half dozen episodes.  While writer/star Nia Vardalos would show up here and there in awfully familiar romantic comedies over the years, she never tapped into the same kind of fame.

Though it picks up fourteen years after the first film, somehow Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett, The Boy Next Door) are the parents of a high school senior, Paris (Elena Kampouris, Labor Day).  Paris is at the age when everything her family does embarrasses her…which would be understandable with a normal family but in the Portokalos family where one goes, dozens follow.  As Paris weighs college choices that could either keep her close or let her roam free, Toula and Ian confront certain realities about how the spark they once had seems to have dimmed at bit.

Next door (the Portokalos family seems to occupy the houses on a complete city block), Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan, Pixels) are shocked to discover that their marriage license was never officially signed by the priest…so they’ve been living in sin for the past half-decade.  Maria sees this as an opportunity to get Gus to give her the wedding she never had before they came to America so another big fat Greek wedding is orchestrated.

Look, good art this ain’t nor does it try to be.  It’s very much in the same spirit as the original and it doesn’t reek of a desperate cash grab had this arrived two years after the first film.  It has the feeling that producer Rita Wilson and Vardalos were out to lunch reminiscing about the old days and Vardalos jokingly pitched another film that seemed to make sense after a few mimosas.  Sure the story is thin and formulaic, hitting the same beats as the original and Vardalos has made an unwise choice in straying from the central family focus to other marginal familial side-stories (including rather lamely outing one of the relatives as gay) that just weigh down the running time.

I was surprised at how many cast members, down to the smallest part, returned from the original.  People who were little more than background extras in the first one pop up in more visible roles in the sequel and that creates a certain pleasant continuity that you don’t really see that often.  Vardalos and Corbett are able to recapture that same charm that made them appealing while the tough looking Constantine easily wins you over with his tender heart.  Kazan has unfortunately had a great deal of plastic surgery over the years and looks like a jack-o-lantern and Andrea Martin steals the movie whenever she’s onscreen.  Producer Rita Wilson pops up with John Stamos for two of the most awkwardly shoe-horned-in cameos in recent memory.

The film doesn’t put up much of a fight and nor should you.  It’s harmless entertainment, much less obnoxious than I thought it would be.  It’s actually kind sweet when you get right down to it and it’s not short on showing some genuine heart and soul.  There are far worse films you could spend your money and time on…including several that Vardalos starred in after My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  If you’re a fan of the original, you’ll find the same sort of enjoyment in this one.