Monday, March 17, 2008


"Quirky" is a tough thing to pull off. What one may consider offbeat and whimsical, others may find cutesy and annoying. I don't have a particularly high quirk threshold, but with an engaging story or a strong directorial presence I can be pretty forgiving; but what really bugs me is when a movie thinks that all it takes to be quirky (or witty, or edgy, or what-have-you) is a clever premise, without the bother of a screenplay, or director, or performances to develop it. In the case of the 1993 so-called black comedy ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER, it doesn't even have the advantage of a clever premise.

Jonathan Wacks's film stars Steve Buscemi as Ed, an awkward mama's boy still mourning the death of his mother (we know because it's repeated ad nauseum in the dialogue; Wacks, nor Chuck Hughes's script, never gives Buscemi to do to actually show his grief). When a slick-talking salesman played by John Glover shows up, promising to bring Ed's mother back from the dead--for a small fee, of course--Ed agrees to fork over the cash, despite the extremely shaky claim. Sure enough, Glover fulfills his promise, bringing Ed's mother back in all of her stifling, overbearing glory, yet what Ed doesn't realize is that keeping her alive requires more than just the hidden fees Glover keeps revealing.

There's plenty that goes wrong with ED, starting with the initial set-up. Like I mentioned earlier, Buscemi doesn't seem all that affected by his mother's passing--at worst, he simply misses her, as any normal person would--so that it doesn't seem plausible that he'd go to unorthodox measures to get her back; he also never comes across as ecstatic to see her once she returns, so the film is nothing if not consistent. And for a black comedy it's appallingly sedate, with idle writing, acting, and directing that turns each scene into a non-event. One need not go to the splattery lengths of DEAD ALIVE (with similarly plumbed the zombied realms of the mother-son dynamic), but at least generate some type of energy from your newly-alive mother. It's as if Wacks had absolutely no interest in pushing his premise in any direction. Things happen with little to no reaction from the surrounding cast; the morning following her resurrection, Ed finds his mother sitting in the refrigerator as if were a Barcalounger, and no one really does anything. Are we just supposed to laugh at the wackiness? And if your mother has to consume live cockroaches as part of her condition, can't you present that in a way that gets ANY type of response, from characters or the audience? I mean, you don't have to show Mom scarfing bugs a la FEAR FACTOR, but at least convey the notion that it's pretty nasty.

The characters in ED are just as limp as its story. Buscemi plays Ed as the same oddball as he has many times since, and Glover is little more than a typical used-car salesman (at one point we follow Glover to his supervisor's office, who insists Glover bilk Ed for all he's got, against Glover's better judgment; it's an interesting wrinkle in the con man persona, but of course goes unexplored). Ned Beatty turns in a supporting role as Ed's lecherous uncle (and was probably reminiscing about the good ol' days of getting ass-raped on a Georgia riverbank), who sole purpose is to introduce the film's eye candy in the form of sexy neighbor Storm (Sam Jenkins). Storm's definitely a treat for the eyes, but her entire presence feels implausible--how many incredibly hot women do you know that pay no mind when strangers gawk at them through a telescope? There's also a last-minute twist regarding Storm's burgeoning relationship with Ed that makes it even more hard to swallow.

Throw in some needless complications like a recently-released convict (Jon Gries) that may or may not be looking for revenge on Ed's mother who brings absolutely zilch to the story, and a lame feel-good happy ending that reeks of preview-audience dissatisfaction and post-production tinkering, and you've got 90-odd minutes thrown to the wind.

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