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USA 1999
Directed by
Ron Howard
122 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingwa
2.5 stars


Coming a year after The Truman Show this satirical comedy about the hypnotic power of television and its deleterious effects on its viewers’ moral fibre is a poor cousin to that film, weaker in both idea and execution.  

Appropriating the then huge popularity of reality television, the basis of the film is an idea dreamed up by Cynthia (Ellen DeGeneres), a staffer at San Francisco-based television station, for a a 24/7 cable show observing one ordinay individual. The person she chooses is video store clerk. Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey). Encouraged by his none-too-bright older brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson), Ed decides to take up the offer but before long airing the family’s dirty laundry doesn’t seem like such a good idea, least of all because Ed has fallen for his brother's pretty girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman), and the attraction is mutual.

The effectiveness of Weir’s film stemmed from the fact that Truman did not know that he was being filmed and that the world he inhabited was artificial. The story of his gradual awakening had a poignancy that this film does not, nor does it replace that quality with anything else.  The script by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel has the occasional good line but the premise is never plausibly developed with Howard failing to distinguish between the visible cameras that are watching Ed for the cable show and the unseen cameras that give us a privileged view of proceedings.  Similarly the narrative lurches unsatisfactorily between on and off-camera events with the one fueling the other without any credible relationship. In other words the behaviour depicted is not even remotely “realistic” but rather a farrago of gags served up to amuse us the cinema audience but largely failing to do so because we simply don't buy the central premise thereby undermining the satirical thrust.

The calibre of the cast is commendable but Harrelson pretty much disappears from view after the promising set-up and DeGeneres (who, oddly enough, went on to fame and fortune as a daytime television hostess) is underwhelming. On the upside Matthew McConaughey turns in a winning lead performance. The generally charmless film is, however, largely saved by presence of Jenna Elfman who generates a genuinely appealing quality amongst the too obvious contrivances.

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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