Friday, January 20, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Radioland Murders (1994) ***

PG, 108 min.
Director: Mel Smith
Writers: Willard Huyck, Gloria Katz, Jeff Reno, Ron Osborn, George Lucas
Starring: Mary Stuart Masterson, Brian Benben, Scott Michael Campbell, Michael Lerner, Stephen Tobolowsky, Ned Beatty, Brion James, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Christopher Lloyd, Larry Miller, Anita Morris, Corbin Bernsen, Harvey Korman, Robert Klein, Bobcat Goldthwait, Peter MacNicol, Anne de Salvo, Jennifer Dundas, Bo Hopkins, Candy Clark, Dylan Baker, Robert Walden, George Burns, Rosemary Clooney, Billy Barty, Tracy Byrd, Joseph Lawrence

Today marks the release of George Lucas’s labor of love “Red Tails”. It’s a movie he worked for years to get funded. Lucas doesn’t produce a whole lot beyond “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” related titles. When he does, they’re on a subject or about a time period that means a lot to him. 1994’s “Radioland Murders” was such a project for Lucas.

The movie was a disastrous flop, making less than $2 million dollars in the U.S. box office from a $15 million dollar budget. It also garnered mostly negative reviews from the critics at the time. While it’s not a great movie by any standards, it’s successful in what it’s trying to accomplish.

It’s homage to the slapstick comedies that Lucas grew up on and a tribute to the technological advancements of entertainment. Taking place in radio’s twilight as the primary source of entertainment for Americans and just before the dawn of television, “Radioland Murders” is one of those murder mysteries with a large cast a suspects, a great deal of misunderstandings, and a whole bunch of kinetic energy.

At the time of its release, many were critical of its fast pace. I don’t believe it would be possible for this fairly thin material to work without such a frenetic pace. It doesn’t take the time to allow the audience to get to know the characters, and so it uses character archetypes instead. If you knew too much about the characters, it would be too easy to figure out the mystery.

What really works in the movie however is the live radio/variety show atmosphere. People are running around every which way trying to keep the show going, while the police are trying to find a killer, and the hero is trying to prove his innocence. It’s really a rather ingenious set up Lucas has devised with his story. It isn’t anything deep, but it makes for a fun night of movie watching.

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