Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel
HOME FRIES (1998)  * 1/2 

Directed by Dean Parisot. Written by Vince Gilligan. Photography, Jerzy Zielinsky. Editing, Nicholas C. Smith. Production design, Barry Robison. Music, Rachel Portman.Produced by Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson, Lawrence Kasdan and Charles Newirth. Cast: Drew Barrymore (Sally), Catherine O'Hara (Mrs.Lever), Luke Wilson (Dorian), Jake Busey (Angus), Shelley Duvall (Mrs. Jackson). A Warners release. 105 minutes.  PG-13.

Director Dean Parisot, a winner of major prizes for his short films, makes his feature debut with Home Fries. Vince Gilligan has one earlier feature credit, for the script of the 1993 Wilder Napalm. Earlier, he had won the 1989 Virginia Governor's Screenwriting Award for Home Fries. He later received some praise and awards for his work on certain episodes of TV's The X-Files, whose executive co-producer he now is. This success must have finally opened the door to the making of his old Home Fries project.

The movie is a would-be black comedy that shows the influence of the Coen Brothers' films, of some X-Files fantasy and, perhaps, of older screwball movies. The recipe is a souffle that does not rise.

Sally, a car-hop at a roadside Burger-Matic, is eight-months pregnant by her middle-aged lover Henry Lever. He had not told her that he was already married. Now that she knows it, sweet Sally terminates the relationship. But Mrs. Lever, having learned of the affair, is hopping mad. To punish her husband for his infidelities she asks her two sons from a previous marriage to teach their stepfather a lesson by frightening the hell out of him.

What the stepsons (Dorian, 24, and Angus, some years older) do in life escapes me, except that they're both helicopter pilots in the National Guard. In a Cobra whirlybird they give chase to Henry in his car, flash their powerful beams on him, even spray bullets --whether real or blanks I could not tell-- and scare him literally to death (he had a weak heart). So is this what people do with taxpayers' money?

Interference on the aircraft's radio leads the flyboys to the discovery that the Burger-Matic's headsets worn by Sally had picked up their airborne chatter. Not-nice Angus has nice Dorian infiltrate the hamburger joint as a temp worker, with a view to terminating anyone who might incriminate them. It's a wasted effort, since Sally had paid no mind to the chatter. But it is un-wasted as she and Dorian fall in love.

Sundry, ill-plotted, improbable, dumb and dumber complications festoon the plot. Among them: Mrs. Lever, who accepts her husband's unplanned death casually and puts on a public, high decibel show of sorrow; Sally takes Dorian to a tedious Lamaze session; Dorian eventually finds out that Sally was his stepfather's mistress but keeps mum; Angus, suspecting another woman of being the late Henry's paramour wants to gas her in her trailer with carbon monoxide brought in through the toilet (the ultimate, idiotic bathroom joke); when Sally is identified, he plans mayhem...

Gratuitous, unbelievable, contrived events and unfunny, forced gags are thrown in. The filmmakers also miss a second chance at another bathroom joke: Dorian, Mom and all of Sally's family are assembled in the latter's home -- an Appalachian-type shack out of  The Grapes of Wrath., Dorian, worrying that Angus will retry his carbon monoxide trick, asks Sally's mother (Shelley Duvall) : "Do you have gas?" I expected her to respond "Only after I eat."  but she did not.

The setting is somewhere in the Texas boondocks, within a radius that must be smaller than the proverbial football field. It's a Gilligan's Island of which we see almost nothing, where the population must number at most three dozen, where all must be blind, deaf or dumb strangers to one another since no one apparently knows anyone else, what's going on, who sleeps with, or does what to whom.

It's a nadir-of-stupidity-flick. When the sound went off for some minutes during the projection I attended, my companions and I agreed that we had nor missed anything.

A small plus is that the Sally-Dorian couple is unpretentiously likable, if simple minded. A big plus is the talented Catherine O'Hara (Mrs. Lever). She has the only amusing moments with her cool as delightful as it is vengeful. Ms. O'Hara, at age 44, looks young enough to have conceived her boys when she was a mere teenager.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel