Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released December 25, 1981
Directed by Ken Shapiro
Written by Ken Shapiro, Tom Sherohman, and Arthur Sellers
Cast: Chevy Chase, Patti D’Arbanville, Mary Kay Place, Dabney Coleman, Brian Doyle-Murray, Nell Carter, Mitch Kreindel, Henry Corden, Arthur Sellers, Sandy Helberg, Pat Proft, Jim Hudson
As the title suggests, this film most certainly had problems, and they weren’t just of the modern variety, either. No, this complete mess of a fantasy comedy was absolutely engorged with problems, and I’m ashamed to admit its poster somehow coaxed the price of a ticket out of my young pocket back in 1982. Now, after recently watching it again, I can say with complete conviction that two viewings in one lifetime is more than enough: I’d erased any memory of that first screening decades ago, and now I’m stuck once again with the daunting task of obliterating this follow-up experience from memory as well. And if that’s not deterrent enough to keep you from watching, then read on.
Chevy Chase plays Max, an air traffic controller surrounded by sloppy idiots—which in the end has nothing to do with anything, except I guess to disparage air traffic controllers—who while driving home from work suffers through all sorts of so-called ‘modern’ problems: he’s stuck in traffic behind a truck hauling chickens, it starts raining through his broken sun roof, and the cassette in his tape player begins to unspool onto the floor. Y’know, the sort of dire situations that almost always result in suicide, genocide, or global economic collapse.
Surviving all of this, he arrives home to discover that his girlfriend, played by Patti D’Arbanville, has broken up with him via a telephone message. From there, he copes with his rejection by dining out alone, going for a walk with his ex-wife, and accepting the invitation of a wheelchair-bound friend to attend a party for a self-help author. At that point, I began to question where this puzzling plot thread was taking me, but when Max sees his ex-girlfriend and her new beau at the party, watches his ex-wife hook up with his friend, then decides to leave the festivities alone in a state of depression, it all fell into place.
How, you ask? Well, during the drive home he once again found himself stuck behind a truck, only this one was carrying nuclear waste instead of chickens, and instead of feathers blanketing his vehicle, it was now green radioactive glop, which of course spilled through the broken sun roof of his car, a payoff masterfully established in that earlier scene. And with that stroke of ill-conceived luck, Max was now radioactive, glowing a greenish hue and somehow attaining the power of telekinesis, which he used to control and levitate objects simply by contorting his facial features (to the strains of whoo-ee-oo sound effects, I might add). And if you’ve found anything hilarious in what I’ve described so far, please let me know.
At this point, I didn’t really care where the story went, and apparently neither did anyone else. This film was BAD, plain and simple, and I couldn’t wait to rid myself of it. It was poorly made, horribly written, disjointed, clunky, and embarrassingly executed, and in the end it was also sadly apparent that these filmmakers had no grasp of comedy whatsoever, in any form. And man oh man, were they ever lazy about it: according to these guys, with telekinetic powers you can give a man a bloody nose, make a dancer’s crotch explode, and provide your ex-girlfriend with an orgasm. Sure, that’s believable! As I found out later, the director and three writers had very little experience in comedy prior to Modern Problems, which perhaps explains why, for the most part, they never worked in the genre again.
And along those lines, have you ever watched a movie and wondered if an actor was just phoning it in, or would rather be anywhere else but involved with that production? With Chase, you not only saw it in this film, you felt it. It was painfully obvious, actually, and he must’ve known he was in a clunker, and was flat-out embarrassed by his involvement. Thankfully, at the other end of the spectrum we had Mary Kay Place, who was a delight playing Max’s ex-wife; she was cool and sexy and fun, and for my money was worth any man’s attention. In fact, I kinda wished her relationship with Chase had been the film’s focal point, instead of the ridiculous telekinesis angle. D’Arbanville wasn’t that bad, either, and her post-breakup interactions with Chase were quite heartfelt at times, believe it or not.
It’s not so surprising then that, because of these two actresses, Modern Problems didn’t receive a dead-zero rating from me; their performances were the only aspect of the film I gave two hoots about. Otherwise, this was a dismal excuse for a happy-go-lucky comedy, with no endearing qualities to give it heart, and no charm, wit, or humor to make it worthy of your time or interest. Even if you’re a fan of Chase, I’d say give this particular offering a wide berth; a lot of his films from the 1980s could be blamed for damaging his career, but this might’ve been the only one with the power to kill it. (1/10)