Archive for March 1992

Roadside Prophets

March 27, 1992

A terrific road movie that deserved a wider audience. John Doe (of X) is Joe, a plant worker who finds himself on a journey to Jackpot, Nevada, where he aims to scatter the ashes of a casual buddy electrocuted by a video game. Joining him for the ride is Sam (Beastie Boy Adam “Ad Rock” Horovitz), a nutcase who looks for his long-lost parents in every Motel 9 he comes across. As these guys tour the desert on their motorcycles, writer/director Abbe Wool (also cowriter of Sid & Nancy) presents the expanse of the country as a strange but unthreatening landscape of the mind, where such oddballs as Timothy Leary, Arlo Guthrie, a dope-smoking David Carradine, and John Cusack (as Caspar the dine-and-dasher) turn up.

Doe and Horovitz give killer performances, putting the kibosh on the old myth that musicians suck as actors. Wool has said she doesn’t want the movie compared with Easy Rider, but it’s fair to point out that it speaks to its generation (X) in about the same way that Easy Rider spoke to hippies. Anyone who ever wanted to chuck everything and take off will relate to it, but the film appeals specifically to those who have settled for less, who don’t expect much in particular out of life except a few good moments, and who don’t pass judgment on loonies. Roadside Prophets at its best is a glowing (but never didactic) ode to nonconformity. Great soundtrack by Pray for Rain, the Pogues, Beastie Boys, and many others.

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Doing Time on Maple Drive

March 16, 1992

Here’s a whitebread weepie in the Ordinary People mold, directed by the guy from thirtysomething — so you have a fair idea what you’re in for here. Doing Time on Maple Drive is notable mainly for two reasons: It contains Jim Carrey’s little-seen dramatic debut, as the alcoholic black sheep of a suburban family; and, despite Carrey’s subsequent success and the obvious novelty value, this 1992 TV-movie took forever to be released in any format on home video. (In 2004 a DVD finally bubbled to the surface.)

Not that you’ll find much to sustain your interest aside from Carrey’s surprisingly effective and almost totally atypical performance. Doing Time isn’t about Carrey’s character. James B. Sikking, a former military man now running a restaurant, and Bibi Besch, who’s neurotic about having the best for her children, are the parents presiding over three unhappy kids: aforementioned alky Tim (Carrey); aspiring writer Karen (Jayne Brook); and the youngest, Matt (William McNamara), the perfect son on whom his parents have pinned all their hopes.

Matt is set to marry Allison (Lori Loughlin), a beauty from a very rich family. Just one catch here: Matt’s gay, and only wants to marry her to protect his folks from The Terrible Truth. Allison is a little curious as to why Matt never wants to boink her; she soon finds out he’s got a serious-ass case of “It’s not you, it’s me.” Then everyone else finds out too, and much heartbroken confrontation ensues, including a last-minute conflict involving Karen planning an abortion. Stop! Stop! Too much WASP anguish! It’s not your fault…it’s not your fault…

Doing Time was written by James Duff, who also wrote The War at Home, about an equally dysfunctional family dealing with the return of eldest son and Vietnam vet Emilio Estevez. Both screenplays end with explosions of guilt and a mixture of pity and contempt for the clueless parents who don’t know that they’re the main cause of their children’s pain — but boy, do they find out. The difference between family melodramas like these movies and works of art like The Ice Storm or Happiness is the difference between facile psychobabble and real writing, real understanding of human nature.

Carrey fans will be disappointed that his character pretty much gets lost in the shuffle. He’s just a supporting player here. But it is undeniably interesting to watch him (A) attempting hefty dramatic stuff (and succeeding more often than not — he turns in good, subtle, pained work here) and (B) not hogging the camera but instead blending with the ensemble cast; the movie is well-acted, if blandly written. Anyway, if you want to see Carrey doing the angst thing two short years before Ace Ventura, and long before his supposed “breakthrough performance” in The Truman Show, here’s your chance.