Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Stephen King Month: Thinner (1996)

Here's another example of a concept that's creepy on the page but mostly silly onscreen: Part of the problem is that it's really difficult to depict a character going from obese to dangerously underweight without using either extensive prosthetics or several different actors, and the make-up in Thinner just isn't up to the task of making star Robert John Burke believably look 300 or 120 pounds. Somewhere in the middle of the movie, when Burke's character weighs about what Burke weighs himself, it looks almost realistic (although even then he's wearing makeup on his face to keep its shape consistent). The rest of the time it's just distracting, and that's a problem when the entire concept of the movie is that the main character is cursed to lose weight until he wastes away.

Burke's gluttonous lawyer Billy isn't a sympathetic character, although he's not really meant to be - he starts the movie by using underhanded tactics to get a mob boss (Joe Mantegna, basically playing Fat Tony from The Simpsons) acquitted on a murder charge, and then he runs over a gypsy woman while his wife is giving him oral sex as he's driving. He then uses his connections to escape all consequences for the woman's death, and is thus cursed by her kin to go on the world's most extreme diet. It's been a while since I read King's novel (originally written under the Richard Bachman pseudonym), but I remember it being one of his darkest, and it definitely has one of the author's most memorable endings (which is saying something for a writer who often doesn't know how to wrap things up). Journeyman horror director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play) undercuts the horror by making it cartoonish and exaggerated, the pacing is lopsided, and the acting is hammy all around (whoever thought Kari Wuhrer could play a menacing gypsy maiden was severely mistaken).

Plus the bleak ending gets soft-pedaled, although it arrives more intact than I thought it would. Holland and screenwriter Michael McDowell introduce a subplot about Billy suspecting his wife of adultery, so that he comes off less villainous in his final actions. But the darkness is really all the story has going for it, and without that it's a one-note Twilight Zone-style tale stretched to feature length.

How far to Castle Rock: The movie starts in Connecticut and heads all the way up to the Maine coast, but Castle Rock is never mentioned (perhaps because its inclusion in the original novel would have tipped readers off to the King connection).

King cameo: He plays a pharmacist named Dr. Bangor (after King's hometown) in two scenes and even has several lines.

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