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.

Mid-Day Mini ~ In & Out

in_and_out

The Facts:

Synopsis: A midwestern teacher questions his sexuality after a former student makes a comment about him at the Academy Awards.

Stars: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon, Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley, Bob Newhart, Gregory Jbara, Shaw Hatosy, Zak Orth, Lauren Ambrose, Alexandra Holden

Director: Frank Oz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Here’s a case of a movie with a preview and a set-up that works better than the film itself.  The premise of a small town teacher being outed at a national level by a former student nearly on the eve of his wedding has comic mileage written all over it.  The problem is the movie itself is so silly, so frustrating, so not satisfying that it trumps any positivity you had for the film going in.  Though I’ve tried on more than one occasion to find some appreciation for In & Out since it was released in 1997 the appeal of this movie still escapes me.

Maybe it’s because the movie takes place in what could best be described as an alternate reality…an oddball version of the modern world as we know it.  That’s not entirely by accident, I don’t think, but is a by-product of writer Paul Rudnick’s kooky style that may work for some films (Jeffrey, The Addams Family) but really fail him when going for a more (ahem) straight-forward tale.

Hey, this is the movies so there’s something to be said for some suspension of disbelief but In & Out pushes the line too far…starting with an Oscar ceremony that defies description.  Rudnick is known for his playful skewering of Hollywood and its vain nature under his pseudonym Libby Gelman-Waxner and he goes for broke in showcasing Hollywood’s biggest night as a name-dropping, in-joke telling, overblown affair.

When mega star (and judging from the clips mega-untalented) Cameron Drake (Dillon) outs his high school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) when he accepts his Best Actor Oscar it sends Howard’s small town life into chaos as the gossip hungry media descend on his quaint town just as he’s preparing to be married to his seriously patient fiancé (Cusack, Working Girl).  A beloved teacher and member of the community, everyone seems to turn their back on Howard when the gay rumors start flying.

This is what really makes me mad about the movie.  Yes, I see that Rudnick is trying to make a point about acceptance but having an entire town turn into ignorant cartoons (“Did this Barbra Streisand do something to you?”) is icky to watch.  Even if this was released in 1997, I think the world was a little farther along in acceptance at that time.  The way that this tight-knit community cold shoulders Howard is not funny, it’s unsettling.

To be fair, the film does have a few nice moments…notably Cusack’s profanity laced tirade late in the film that probably earned her her Oscar nomination.  There’s also a too short scene between the older women of the town (including Debbie Reynolds as Kline’s mother) discussing some of their secrets they haven’t shared.  While it’s nice to see rugged star Tom Selleck play against type, there’s no explanation as to why his Hollywood reporter character is granted access to film anywhere he pleases…including Howard’s wedding and a graduation ceremony that he’d have no business being at.

The whole affair as directed by Frank Oz is merely in service to Rudnick’s clumsily executed plot that puts people where they need to be for no other reason than it’s what Rudnick wanted.  There are some serious continuity problems as it relates to cross country travel and the movie seems to exist without any observance of days of the week.

Even with likable lead Kline and a few sly turns by a cast packed with trusted character actors, this film stinks…though I’ve tried to wake up and smell the roses a few times the smell of failed opportunity is still all over the movie.