Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel


Directed by Tom Holland. Written by Michael McDowell and Holland, based on the book by Stephen King. Photography, Kees Van Oostrum. Editing, Marc Laub. Production designer, Laurence Bennett. Music, Daniel Licht. Produced by Richard Rubinstein & Mitchel Galin. Cast: Robert John Burke(Billy Halleck), Joe Mantegna(Richie Ginelli), Lucinda Jenney(Heidi Halleck), Joy Lenz(Linda Halleck), Kari Wuhrer(Gina Lempke), Michael Constantine(Tadzu Lempke), Stephen King(the pharmacist), et al A Paramount release. 93 min. Rated R. (language, violence, a sexual act, ghoulish faces)
Famously, the socialite wife of William S. Paley (he founded CBS) once decreed that "You can never be too rich or too thin. " I don't know about rich, but too thin won't do. This film is proof of this.

The title may be confusing to some readers who may take it as a declaration that writer Stephen King has lost weight. Wrong. It's lawyer Billy Halleck, the tall (fat?) story's grossly overweight protagonist who does.

In court, Billy has just won for his mobster client Richie Ginelli. As he drives home, his wife Heidi, until now frustrated in intimate relations by Billy's bulk, is elated. Sitting next to her husband, she tries again. (It's unlikely given the man's heft, but let it pass). In the throes of sensuality, Billy hits and kills an old gypsy lady who's crossing the street uncautiously. In one of many messy plot elements, it's unclear to what extent Billy is at fault. Thanks to a well-disposed judge and a friendly cop, he is found not guilty -- except in the eyes of the gypsies.

The old woman was the daughter of 106-year-old Tadzu, who proceeds to put a curse on Billy by touching him and mumbling "Thinner!" The lawyer starts losing weight with miraculous speed. Though puzzled, he is at first pleased, until he realizes that he is thinning down to nothing, no matter how much food he stuffs into himself. The malediction has also affected, with ghoulish results, the judge and the cop. Billy embarks on a search for Tadzu, to have him take off his curse. . .

"Thinner" is at least the 25th King story made into a feature film, not counting television items. Some movies are good or very good: "Carrie, " "The Shining, " "Christine, ""Stand by me, " "Misery, " "Dolores Claiborne, " "The Shawshank Redemption, " and perhaps "Cujo. " None of them had a screenplay by King. Most other King-inspired and/or written films range from mediocre to miserable.

As to the fidelity of the various screen adaptations, I cannot judge. Having attempted a few times to read a King story, I was defeated by writing of the potboiler kind that disregards style and grammar and is of the school of "This was given to my wife and I. " Sure enough, in "Thinner" Billy declares "He put a curse on Cary and I. " The curse may also have been for using bad English.

"Thinner" starts well. The prosthetic and makeup devices that take Billy from a balloon to a rail are sometimes detectable, yet most skillful. Billy's daughter Linda gives a cute imitation of Marlon Brando as the Godfather. (Minor mystery. Billy is on the pale side, his wife is a blonde, but Linda daughter looks Brazilian or something close). A witness says that Billy "was sober as a judge. . . " (pause) ". . . Judge. " Tadzu's greatgranddaughter Gina is a gorgeous, sexy gypsy given to come-ons followed by irreverent gestures. This just about covers the fun part of the film.

As the movie leaves its long prologue for the realm of horror, it falls apart. Some bits are predictable: a disfigured man presses Billy to accept his gun, Billy refuses, leaves the house and -what d'you know!- we hear the expected revolver shot. Worse yet, there is an accumulation of loose ends, gaps, holes and abysses of logic, continuity and arbitrariness --even by the elastic standards of fantasy flicks.

In these days of celebrating cuisine ("Babette's Feast, " "Tampopo" "Eat Drink Man Woman" "Like Water for Chocolate" etc. and the recent "Big Night"), "Thinner" is a bulimic, anti-food concoction which, however, does not push itself far enough into the surreal realm of eating with the black humor of, say, "La Grande Bouffe. "

There is, however, an encouraging side to the movie. Some people would like to meet a furious gypsy who, unlike Tadzu, is not totally vindictive and would merely make them shadows of their former selves. Then they could start feasting and gorging from scratch. What a happy thought.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel