(director/Marshall Brickman: screenwriter: Thomas Baum; cinematographer: Adam Holender; editor: Nina Feinberg; music: Stan Silverman; cast: Alan Arkin (Simon Mendelssohn), Max Wright (Dr. Hundertwasser), Jayant (Barundi), Madeline Kahn (Cynthia Mallory), Judy Graubart (Lisa), Austin Pendleton (Dr. Carl Becker), William Finley (Dr Aaron Chandler), Wallace Shawn (Dr. Eric Van Dongen), Fred Gwynne (General Korey), Adolph Green (Commune Leader); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Martin Bregman; Orion Pictures; 1980)
“Too bad the rest of the film wasn’t as funny as its absurd premise.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Too bad the rest of the film wasn’t as funny as its absurd premise. The poor editing job was costly to the quirky comedy, which should have been a gem. This is the promising directorial debut of Marshall Brickman (“Lovesick”/”Deadly Game”), the co-writer of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, Manhattan and Sleeper. It has a field day ripping into academia, religion, think-tank programs, TV viewing, communes, the military-industrial complex and America’s lack of culture. Simon (Alan Arkin) is an eccentric, self-centered, hubris-filled, genius researcher and psychology professor at a New York college who desires fame and to win the Nobel prize.
He’s looking to discover more about how the mind works by locking himself in a sensory deprivation tank for long periods. His girlfriend from the music department, Lisa (Judy Graubart), indulges him even if she thinks his behavior is neurotic. Meanwhile a secret government think-tank, located in Hanover, Maine, called the Institute for Advanced Concepts, is run by a crazed scientist named Dr. Carl Becker (Austin Pendleton). Under Becker are his four equally weirdo egghead scientists– Dr. Chandler (William Finley), Van Dongen (Wallace Shawn), Barundi (Jayant) and Hundertwasser (Max Wright). The bored think-tank members come up with ridiculous fraudulent science projects to goof over the public, as they ignore projects like trying to save the world. Instead they enjoy playing practical jokes on the country by presenting false discoveries that make no sense, such as fixing the Nielsen Ratings so that unpopular TV shows become hits and substituting a duplicate of Nixon after his historic meeting in China. In their latest prank, they get Doris, their computer, to choose Simon. They dupe him into believing he is an alien who forty years ago was placed in an orphanage on Earth by his alien mother. The one-joke comedy has Simon believing he came to America to educate the people to not allow such things as elevator music and to stop the replacing of paper towels in public restrooms with air-blowers. Madeline Kahn plays an unemployed actress who is hired by the institute to be the brainy Dr. Mallory. She convinces the vulnerable Simon that when he comes out of his deprivation tank he’s really an ET, and he chooses to go public with that. A few of the gags worked because of their sharp cerebral or New York humor. But when it started to take itself too seriously and became preachy, it lost me and the satire began to feel silly and pointless.
EVIEWED ON 3/1/2019 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/