SLITHER (director: Howard Zieff; screenwriter: W.D. Richter; cinematographer: László Kovács; editor: David Bretherton; music: Tom McIntosh; cast: James Caan (Dick Kanipsia), Peter Boyle (Barry Fenaka), Sally Kellerman (Kitty Kopetzky), Louise Lasser (Mary Fenaka), Allen Garfield (Vincent J. Palmer), Richard B Shull (Harry Moss), Alex Rocco (Man with Ice Cream), Edwina Gough (Bingo Player), Virginia Sale (Bingo Caller), Seamon Glass (Farmer in Truck); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Jack Sher; MGM; 1973)
“A confoundingly funny pic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Hilarious offbeat parody of Duel, that’s also part crime drama, part road movie and part thriller. One of the small film gems that passed under the radar and is worth tracking down. James Caan shows a superb comic touch as the likable dim ex-con, who is not as dumb as he appears to be and a lot funnier than he was in The Godfather (1972). W.D. Richter’s quirky script keeps things twisty and the former TV commercial director of the comical Benson & Hedges cigarettes Howard Zieff (“Hollywood Cowboy”/”The Main Event”/”Private Benjamin”), in his debut film, keeps this pleasing crime caper tantalizingly absurd and gives free rein to the colorful characters to air things out on the side of enjoyable mayhem.
The personable 32-year-old former Connecticut high school football star and car thief, Dick Kanipsia (James Caan), has just been released from prison after serving a two-year sentence and is out West visiting his former prison pal Harry Moss, when the farmhouse is stormed and Harry is pumped full of lead by several unseen assailants. Dick hid in the cellar and takes to the road after the gunfire dies down to hitch a ride to see a pal of Harry’s. Out in the boondocks Dick fixes the stalled car of the flaky Kitty Kopetzky (Sally Kellerman) and they spend a night together in a motel. The next day while eating out in a diner, Kitty unexpectedly robs the joint while armed with a revolver when Dick was in the men’s room. Dick flees through the kitchen door to take a bus to where Harry’s old pal Barry Fenaka (Peter Boyle) resides with his wife Mary (Louise Lasser). Seven years ago Harry and Barry embezzled $312,000 and Harry got caught and Barry didn’t. Harry gave the money to shady investment financier Vincent J. Palmer (Allen Garfield), of Los Angeles, to hold for safe keeping until he got out. Palmer’s someone Barry didn’t know about, so the two become uneasy partners as they exchange info. Things are made easier when Mary recognizes Dick, as she went to the same high school but was two years behind the popular jock.
The trio go in Barry’s Airstream recreational camper to find Palmer and get the loot, but are followed by a mysterious dark van they can’t shake. Things get more bizarre when they meet Palmer who denies he’s Palmer, and sends them on a circuitous journey through California to find Palmer. At one stop in Pismo Beach Dick runs into Kitty and she forces herself on them. On the road to track down Palmer, the foursome are now followed by two dark vans. At a trailer park, fearing for his life Dick runs into a bingo game and using his wits he locates the guys who are trailing him in the vans. But this is just the beginning of the trouble to follow, as the vans and camper chase each other until Dick meets up with Palmer at a roadside vegetable stand during a shoot-out. As for Dick, after the mystery is cleared up he pines to return to prison which he found saner than the civilian world.
It’s not a flawless film as it hits several bumpy spots, but it’s a confoundedly funny pic.
REVIEWED ON 2/3/2009 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ