(Tony Richardson, 1984)
A comedy about tragedy, this film features the unpredictably timed deaths of many major characters, a rape revenge subplot, a revolutionary bombing subplot, lots of sex including a prominent incest theme, and a running gag involving a farting dog who is stuffed and mounted. Yet it is an A-list production with an all-star cast and generous production values. This sets up a tension which the film resolves with an evenness of tone and mildness of effect that softens the subversive impact - it doesn't break the taboos, it just sort of taps them on the table. One wonders whether this toning down was imposed rather than conceived, because the film's considerable craft disintegrates whenever we approach a big payoff - the bimbo in the bathroom, the cop's heart attack, and the car bomb detonation all look like they've been inexplicably edited for TV. All sequences involving Rob Lowe running around in fast motion are instant death - a ghostly echo of the farce the movie secretly wants to be but doesn't quite have the stomach for. And without big laughs, you wish there was a little more space to get to know the characters in this all-star crowd - the ensemble is right into it, but the narrative-cramming is apparent even if you don't know the source novel. I doubt John Irving was quite so belligerent with the catch-phrases either.