Detectiveness

Christine: adapted from the Stephen King novel by Bill Phillips; directed by John Carpenter; starring Keith Gordon (Arnie Cunningham), John Stockwell (Dennis Guilder), Alexandra Paul (Leigh Cabot), Robert Prosky (Will Darnell) and Harry Dean Stanton (Detective Junkins) (1983): Competent adaptation of King’s horror novel never quite soars, possibly because of budgetary restrictions — the epic car chases of the novel have instead become epic studies in stupidity, as people try to escape the homicidal car by running down the middle of the road. Because that always works so well.

The script also errs in trying to squeeze in the entire timeline of King’s lengthy novel, resulting in the triumph of plot over character. Carpenter manages some nice set-pieces and one truly great image involving fiery cars and fiery bodies, and the whole thing isn’t boring — just a bit frustrating. The acting by the leads is fine, though Harry Dean Stanton is wasted as a police detective, and Robert Prosky and Roberts Blossom blow the young leads off the screen whenever they share a scene. Lightly recommended.

Zero Effect: written and directed by Jake Kasdan; starring Bill Pullman (Daryl Zero), Ben Stiller (Steve Arlo), Ryan O’Neal (Gregory Stark) and Kim Dickens (Gloria Sullivan) (1998): Jake Kasdan’s first film as a writer-director is clearly a labour of love, complete with a certain self-indulgence when it comes to trimming the fat off the film.

A modern riff on Sherlock Holmes, Zero Effect follows Holmes-like Daryl Zero and his assistant Steve Arlo as they unravel a case of blackmail. Pullman does surprisingly well as the twitchy, weird Zero — indeed, casting decisions even in 1998 would have suggested that Kasdan accidentally reversed the casting of the two leads. The result is the sort of detective movie that would have been right at home in the theatres of 1974, but which vanished without a trace in 1998. Which is too bad, because I’d have liked to see more weirdly titled cases of Daryl Zero. Recommended.

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