Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Modern Problems

Modern Problems - poster crop fixCinema Monolith: 1/10 Film ReelProject 82
IMDb: 4.9/10
Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide: *½ out of 4

Released December 25, 1981
Rated PG
89 minutes

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)

Modern Problems

14 comments on “Modern Problems

  1. Popcorn Nights

    So, just to clarify, would you recommend a viewing?


    • Todd Benefiel

      For you, yes. I think it’s right about at your level. But level of what, I have no idea.


      • Popcorn Nights

        I will take that as a compliment, regardless of the intention. Anyway, I should have said in my earlier comment that I enjoyed your review, Todd. I don’t mind Chevy Chase, but I’ve never been a huge fan, so I’ll just deal with the modern problems that I already have.


      • Todd Benefiel

        I will let you take my comment as a compliment, since your initial comment led me to, thus far, my best chuckle of the day. And I’m with you as far as Mr. Chase goes…not all that much I’ve liked him in, movie-wise, and I barely tolerated him on the old SNL. So again, Stu, I thank you for sharing in this site’s rampant wise-assery!


  2. Lindsey

    Netflix keeps recommending this to me, haha. Since we have such similar taste, I’ll have to go ahead and mark “Not Interested” on it.


    • Todd Benefiel

      Lindsey, I thought I’d lost you forever! I’m glad to see you visit CM again, and yes, I agree that we have similar tastes…so trust me when I say, ignore the bothersome badgering by Netflix and stay far, far away from this one!


      • Lindsey

        Nope, you haven’t lost me! I’m just waaaaay behind on my blog reading, haha. Months behind. Have to spend the summer playing catch-up!


      • Todd Benefiel

        I’ll give you exactly one week to catch up…and that will be without the help of your robotic doppelgängers!


      • Lindsey

        No bots?! I guess that means Lindseys 32-35, the designated blog readers, are getting pink slips.


      • Todd Benefiel

        Just FOUR to cover your blog reading? No wonder you’re so far behind! Rescind the pink slips, get those overworked droids some help (I would suggest the Ultra-Lindsey B-4000), and start thinking about another film for our next mini-blogathon. Perhaps one that features…ROBOTS!


      • Lindsey

        Internet Archive seems to have a very limited selection of robot films, unfortunately. Did you ever end up watching Zontar or The Screaming Skull? We could do one of those if you haven’t!


      • Todd Benefiel

        I haven’t seen either of them, but I’m kinda partial to Zontar, if that’s cool with you! I’m in the midst of moving to my new place and getting organized, and should be free to watch whichever one we choose in a few weeks. Let me know you’re thoughts on the two, and I’ll keep you updated on when I’m able to watch!


      • Lindsey

        Zontar works for me!


      • Todd Benefiel

        Zontar it is! I’ll let you know when I’m settled…I bet our legion of fans can’t wait for this one!


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