Radioland Murders

Unmitigated torture, this frenetic effort to interface comedy and mystery with an uninformed postmodernist tribute to radio in its heyday suggests at times what 1941 might have been like if it had been directed by a runaway lawn mower. My first impulse is to spare Mel Smith, the credited director, if only because his work on The Tall Guy was light and funny, and instead blame George Lucas (credited with the story) and his writers (Howard the Duck’s Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, along with Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn). But however you slice it, this festival of noise and activity about the launching of an imaginary fourth national radio network in 1939 bears scant relation to the way live radio shows were actually produced, and its overstuffed repertory of characters and interrupted or abbreviated acts is so choppy that most of the participants involved or evoked are more insulted than honored. (Spike Jones, for one, must be rolling in his grave, making a much lovelier sound and image than this movie’s sour pastiche.) Among the on-screen victims are Mary Stuart Masterson, Brian Benben, Ned Beatty, Michael Lerner, Stephen Tobolowsky, Christopher Lloyd, Scott Michael Campbell, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Corbin Bernsen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Brion James, and George Burns. As an indication of how to do this sort of thing with some taste and style, check out the 1934 Murder at the Vanities; if you must waste your time, you’d be much better off with Howard the Duck, Last Action Hero, or even the equally mean-spirited and mechnical It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which at least has better actors. (JR)

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