Friday, January 22, 2010

Improper Channels

(Eric Till, 1981)
The presence of Alan Arkin in a movie is hardly a guarantee of quality, but there's no question he's the best thing here. In fact his deadpan finesse makes all the hyperventilating crap that surrounds him that much more intolerable - I strongly suspect he shipped his son's script north when nobody in Hollywood would touch it. As long as it's Arkin and Mariette Hartley at home with their workaday domestic issues and cute daughter, the movie is watchable. But that material is completely incidental to the movie's intended burlesque of Orwellian bureaucracy, which tanks hard on grounds of credibility and watchability. They would have been wise to tell the story from the fixed perspective of the couple, especially since the behind the scenes views of diabolical social workers and computer technicians show an agonizing lack of insight into systemic corruption. Quite the opposite: with every successive crisis created by functionaries stupidly breaking the rules, the movie could almost serve as an argument for stricter regimentation. It's certainly an argument for stricter filmmaking: Till goads Monica Parker and Harry Ditson into hair-pullingly bad performances, somehow managing to be belligerent and indecisive at the same time. The kind of movie that mistakes aggravation for humour, with misbegotten asides of racial comedy for bad measure.

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