Monday October 28, 1996
Stephen King work is a little like Kathy Bates in "Misery"--always unpredictable, and occasionally like a sledgehammer to the ankles. For every "Carrie," "Stand by Me" and "Shawshank Redemption" there's been a "Mangler," "Sleepwalkers" and "Lawnmower Man." The secret is getting King's particular brand of dread and humor in the right proportions. It isn't easy.
"Thinner," written in 1985 under King's occasional pseudonym of Richard Bachman, has been transported firmly to the middle of the King movie oeuvre. Director Tom Holland, with a long string of modern horror on his rap sheet, is out to make a lurid cartoon.
And his obese "hero," defense attorney Billy Halleck--Robert John Burke under a suffocating layer of Greg Cannom's special effects--does a great impression of a man drowning in his own flesh.
King is an entrepreneur at finding trends or sometimes creating them--and then twisting them to his own devious ends. When Billy is cursed by a Gyspy king (Michael Constantine) after running over the king's daughter with his car, and begins wasting away to nothing, King is making obvious commentary on America's weight obsession.
But when Billy pleads that he never saw the woman, and the king tells him, "You see us," you know there's a lot more going on.
Lawyer-loathing, for one thing. And racism. And the tawdriness of sex after marriage: Billy's wife, Heidi (Lucinda Jenney), was treating him to a particular sex act while he was driving, which is why he hit the woman, and why he can't really explain what happened.
It's too kinky. Billy, the judge, the police, all conspire to spare him from prison. But they can't do anything about the supernatural.
The problem with "Thinner," which went unscreened for critics, is that it's medium-level King. It lacks the gravity of "Shawshank" and the crazed obsession of "Misery."
It's more like "Needful Things," another good film of a lightweight story, with a few more servings of gore and gross-out humor to hold us over until the next big thing.
Stephen King's Thinner, 1996. R, for horror violence and gore, language and sexuality. A Spelling Films production, released by Paramount. Director Tom Holland. Producers Richard P. Rubinstein, Mitchell Galin. Screenplay by Michael McDowell, Tom Holland. Cinematographer Kees Van Oostryum. Editor Marc Laub. Costumes Ha Nguyen. Music Daniel Licht. Production design Laurence Bennett. Special effects Greg Cannom. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Robert John Burke as Billy Halleck. Lucinda Jenney as Heidi Halleck. Joy Lentz as Linda Halleck. Michael Constantine as Tadzu Lempke. Kari Wuhrer as Gina Lempke.