31 Days to Scare ~ The Temp (1993)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A troubled businessman’s life is upturned after the arrival of a mysterious female temp worker in his office.

Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt, Steven Weber, Colleen Flynn, Faye Dunaway, Scott Coffey, Dakin Matthews, Maura Tierney, Lin Shaye

Director: Tom Holland

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Tell me if this sounds familiar to you (and if not, humor me).  You’re at home, eaten a nice meal, and are ready for dessert.  You go to the freezer, get out a batch of ice cream that already has a flavor profile…let’s say, Peanut Butter Cup.  Tonight, though, Peanut Butter Cup alone isn’t good enough.  You go to your cupboard and add some M&M’s, a few mini marshmallows, maybe some actual peanut butter cups to gild the lily, and then top it off with some chocolate syrup and whipped cream.  By the time you’re done, there’s this strange creation in front of you that doesn’t resemble what you started with and when you bite into it…you wish you had just left it alone.

That’s sort of what I feel like when thinking about The Temp, the goofy thriller that came out on my birthday in 1993 and made back just a paltry 1/3 of it’s 15-million-dollar budget.  With a strong director (Tom Holland of Thinner & Child’s Play), two Oscar winning actors (Timothy Hutton and Faye Dunaway) and a number of rising stars in its cast, not to mention it’s perfect for the early ‘90s pseudo-suspense set-up, The Temp should have been an easy score for Paramount Pictures.  However, if you read up on the film and even just watching it through, you can tell that it’s been royally messed with on its way to release and either maneuvered into the half-hearted attempt it is, or torpedoed from something more sinister which it feels like it wanted to be.

Of all the offices to stage a murder mystery, a cookie company in Oregon would be the last thing I would think of but that’s exactly where screenwriters Kevin Falls and Tom Engleman post Peter Derns (Hutton, Ordinary People) as a divorced dad with anger management issues recently returned to work after suffering a bit of a breakdown. With his company about to be taken over by a larger corporation looking to trim the executive roster as a cost-saving measure, his paranoid nature is back on high alert almost instantly. To make matters even worse, his personal assistant (Scott Coffey, It Takes Three) just left for paternity leave, and he’s left scrambling to please his own boss (Faye Dunaway, Eyes of Laura Mars, wild-eyed and sweat-lipped from the downbeat) with little notice.

He’s not on his own for long, because he’s soon assigned a temporary assistant, the well-educated Kris (Lara Flynn Boyle, Poltergeist III) who time and time again proves to be Peter’s saving grace.  There’s clearly some kind of electric connection between the two and whatever flirting goes on between them remains on the up and up. This is especially good considering that when his full-time assistant returns Kris has endeared herself enough to stick around and begins to rise up the ranks of the company rather quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that it comes on the heels of a suspicious number of accidents, deaths, and exposed secrets about executives, suggesting that someone on the inside might be making it easy for Kris to have a path forward.  Is it Kris herself or someone else with a vested interest in seeing the others around her fail?

In our current era of #MeToo and understanding more about gender politics in the office workplace, The Temp actually becomes an interesting watch through a more experienced lens.  I’m sure the movie couldn’t have been written exactly as-is now…but could it remain just slightly altered and be more effective?  Possibly.  It’s a shame that it seemed to go through so many test screenings and alterations in post-production.  The well-known tale is the entire final act was reshot, much to the anger of Dunaway who refused to film certain scenes and to the overall confusion of audiences.  What’s there now seems incongruous with the rest of the movie, turning into a half-baked Hitchcock film when it never expressed any interest in being up until that point. 

What it had shown some curiously in exploring were a few nasty deaths and Holland’s expertise in building tension as we waited for some bad things to happen to the employees and friends of Peter. (Look for Single White Female’s Steven Weber, Oliver Platt from Flatliners, and Beautiful Boy’s Maura Tierney in the cast as well.)  One such incident is bloody memorable even today (two words: Paper Shredder) and if The Temp had been more adventurous in exploring those kinds of shocking moments, perhaps it would have been promoted more in theaters from a box office dud to minor success.  It also might have helped Boyle break out more as a film star because while she had notoriety on TV and minor roles in films, leading lady status sadly evaded her.  Hutton and especially Dunaway look embarrassed to be in this by the end, but Boyle stands by the movie throughout, which in a strange way works for her character as well.    

The Silver Bullet ~ The 9th Life of Louis Drax

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Synopsis: A psychologist begins working with a young boy who has suffered a near-fatal fall and finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality.

Release Date: September 2, 2016

Thoughts: French director Alexandre Aja is known for his more, ahem, extreme work (High Tension, Mirrors, Piranha 3D, Horns), so I was more than a little surprised his name was attached to this big-screen adaptation of Liz Jensen’s 2005 novel.  I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any opportunity for characters to be dispatched of in a most grisly fashion but perhaps The 9th Life of Louis Drax is an attempt to show Aja’s softer side.  Focused on a comatose boy and the secret as to why he’s in his current state, this September release might be a nice return for the carefully constructed mystery genre that’s been dormant for far too long in my book.  Starring Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey), Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold), Aaron Paul (Need for Speed), Barbara Hershey (Insidious: Chapter 2), and Oliver Platt (Flatliners), if Aja can withhold the bloodletting and let the story take center stage he may just have a winner on his hands.

The Silver Bullet ~ Kill the Messenger

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Synopsis: Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, a reporter becomes the target of a vicious smear campaign after he exposes the CIA’s role in arming Contra rebels in Nicaragua and importing cocaine into California.

Release Date:  October 10, 2014

Thoughts: Though it reeks of Jeremy Renner continuing his neverending quest for Oscar glory, there’s little doubt that the real life story serving as the basis for Kill the Messenger has potential to be a pivotal moment in his career.  Look, we all know that Renner (The Bourne Legacy, American Hustle) can act with the best of them…but I feel the actor is taking himself a bit too seriously at this point.  Working with director Michael Cuesta to bring journalist Gary Webb’s life to the big screen, Renner makes a good impression in this first trailer…though it does feel like we’ve seen this exact same story told several times each decade .

Down From the Shelf ~ Flatliners

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Medical students bring themselves near death; their experiment begins to go awry

Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, William Baldwin

Director: Joel Schumacher

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: There are some movies that bring up a lot of memories when you hear the title and for me just hearing the name Flatliners takes me back to the summer of 1990 when I anxiously awaited the August release of this thriller.  I recall the movie was released when my family was at our cabin and I wouldn’t be able to see it until we returned to the cities but it wasn’t long until my dad took me (hey, I was still underage for an R-rated movie!) to Yorktown 3 for a weeknight showing.

Flatliners has always been a guilty pleasure film for me with its over-the-top concept, stylish direction by Schumacher, and enjoyable performances by a cast that have all gone on to bigger and better things (well, maybe Baldwin excluded).  Revisiting the film again recently, I found that it still packed a nice little punch even if my adult eyes saw many of the cracks that previously went over my head.

Schumacher was a hot director at the time and was still riding the successful high of The Lost Boys three years earlier.  His remake of a French romance (Cousins) was well-received yet Schumacher would change course again to deliver what may seem like a horror film but is really more of a drama-thriller.  Re-teaming with one of his Lost Boys (Sutherland) and nabbing shooting star Roberts (who filmed this before Pretty Woman was released in March of 1990) was a bit of a coup and both actors, along with Bacon, Platt, and Baldwin formed a nice quintet of players as medical students pushing the line between life and death.

Sutherland has always been an interesting actor (much like his father, Donald) and he turns what could have been a one note hero/anti-hero role into a guy with some depth though it’s masked by a false bravado.  Film history has established that doctors have a God-complex and that notion is played up as the medical students each take turns ‘flatlining’ in an after-hours illegal pseudo-study group.  It’s when they are brought back that, unbeknownst to them, they bring something else back with them.

Essentially, the same scenario is replayed over and over again as each of our leads has a different experience in the thin line between heaven and earth.  All of the post-revival happenings are menacing in one way or another but none are of the serial killer variety…though the film’s preview tries to trick you into thinking they are.  Sutherland begins to be terrorized by a boy from his youth, Roberts sees her dead father, and Baldwin’s seedy past comes back to haunt him.  The secret to Bacon’s struggle seems to parallel what Sutherland is going through but a surprisingly emotional twist brings the film its best scene between Bacon and someone from his past. 

This could have been made by any number of directors with any combination of actors but the group that has been assembled strongly delivers a thriller even with its definite B-movie origins.  Elevating it slightly is James Newton Howard’s alarming score and Jan de Bont’s excellent visuals.  The film was shot around Loyola University in Chicago and Schumacher mines the campus and its gothic design for all it’s worth.

Flatliners does fall, um, flat in the middle section but I’ve always responded well to the movie in my numerous viewings of it throughout the years.  Yes, the basic plot stretches the bounds of any logical credibility and in hindsight much of it doesn’t line up but I’m willing to forgive a lot from a film that has its eyes and ears in the right place.  From a visual standpoint alone the film is recommended, and if you’re looking for a slick thriller from the 90’s that isn’t too horribly dated, you can’t miss with this one.