Case Number 04986: Small Claims Court


First Look Pictures // 1988 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // August 13th, 2004

The Charge

Waiting for...and ripping off...Godard.

The Case

Fran is a high priced fashion model who wants to be an actress (no kidding)...

Paul is a self-important director who is sick of making commercials and music videos. He strives to create art, not artifice (duh!)...

Michael is an arrogant investment banker who travels the globe laundering "mysterious" monies for a South American dictator (o-kay)...

Fran and Mike are a couple in name only. They share very little except one of those formulaically expensive Manhattan apartments that looks like it was decorated by the set designer for Desire Under the Elms. Fran works for Paul in his sell-out enterprises and enjoys the entire phony facelessness of the small screen scene.

One day, a friendly flirtation between filmmaker and eye candy turns into a torrid affair. When Michael finds out, he is hurt and disappointed. But at least he has his bank manager mistress to fall back on, right? Anyway, scams are uncovered, moodiness leads to psychotic possessiveness, and everyone looks absolutely fabulous with the famed NYC skyline twinkling behind them. Fran must make a decision between the perplexed Paul and the emasculated Michael, the members of the audience sit back and wonder just what in the French new wave the title Big Time signifies. It cannot possible be the amount of entertainment garnered from this joyless lovers' triangle.

With a directorial style that borrows heavily...heck, let's just call it as it is -- that steals -- its entire operating model from Jean-Luc Godard and his 1963 film Contempt, with a variety of film stock styles that out-multimedia Oliver Stone, Big Time should have been called Witless, A Loser is a Loser, or Natural Born A-holes. This 1989 slice of self-indulgence masquerading as an adaptation of Keith Reddin's well-regarded play (critics loved it initially, according to some online sources) looks at the lifestyles of the rich and blameless as if anyone with the ability to buy a multi-million-dollar condo in Manhattan is a hotbed of everyman insight. Taking the concept of "opening up" this theatrical meditation on adultery and deceit far too literally, any of Reddin's remaining theatrical structure is scuttled to present a kind of Pulp Fiction-meets-Pet Shop Boys video approach to narrative drive. Characters channel previous flashbacks as if they are happening in their foreseeable future, and internal logic runs rampant as information hidden in commercials and jump cuts ends up determining the interpersonal problems experienced by everyone involved. Like a Where's Waldo? of personal ethos, this manufactured-for-PBS puzzle of perplexing plot points thinks it's Angels in America mixed with one of Harold Pinter's minimalist maxims. But the reality is far simpler -- this is uninvolving drama at its most passive.

Besides, there is nothing much here to spotlight. These are your typical nouveau riche douche bags bellyaching about how their ritzy lives as actresses, models, investment bankers, and hotshot video directors just don't fulfill their inner child. After wasting 80 minutes listening to them whine about their lack of emotional connections and the depths of their personal angst, you want to yank that needy core kid from out of their spoiled psyches and beat the silver spoon out of it.

Part of the problem is the play itself. Reddin hopes that his half-spoken and -baked ideas, delivered in curse-free Mamet-like incomplete couplets, will somehow get to the very essence of the issues. But all we hear are short, static sentences that seem to suggest something significant, but end up dropping dead like carpet bombs across the entire flow of the scenes. When characters do break into soliloquy or meaningful monologue, the message gets lost in pop culture references and tired clichés. Big Time may be trying to say that all individuals, no matter the outer coating of celebrity or success, suffer from the same emotional lapses as anyone else. But the vague way in which Reddin addresses this concern, coupled with director Jan Egleson's cinematic stammering, leads to a very unfulfilling movie. It's all just 84 minutes of hedonistic hemming and hawing.

At least two-thirds of the casting here is all wrong. Mia Sara, who at the time was (and frankly, still is) best known for her work as a certain Ferris Bueller's main squeeze during his Day Off, just can't get a handle on what the hell she is supposed to be doing in this movie. Her character, claiming to be an in-demand model and sometime-actress, comes across more like an inert fawn than an emotionally tormented soul. We are told she is torn between her two lovers, much like Mary Macgregor, but she is not feeling like a fool. She is not feeling at all, frankly. Zero sentiments register on her overly eyebrowed pie face, and when she makes her final decision, the perplexed look of abstraction on her moneymaking mug offers no clue as to her compassion chaos. Adrian Pasdar, who sold the realism in running with renegade vampires in Near Dark, hasn't gotten near a good role since. And he proves why with his tortured-artist-as-a-dull-ham horseplay. Wearing his hair in a series of electroshock spikes and spouting derivative directorial dung about vision and visionaries (he carries around a Godard book so as not to look like a complete amateur), he's every failed filmmaker rolled into a single, snot-nosed jerk. Only Dennis Boutsikaris, playing yuppie scum like the concept was based on his character, imbues the heinous antihero with anything registering as real passion. From his love of the money made good life to his personal humiliation at the hands of his business and love life, we at least witness a kind of individual arc with his power-broker-in-free-fall narcissistic numbness.

The real culprit -- which may actually be too harsh of a term -- is director Jan Egleson. Keith Reddin's dialogue is as opaque as his plotting is preschool: vapid woman dissatisfied with Jerk #1 falls into the fetlocks of Gloomy Gus #2, only to realize she doesn't want either excuse for a man. Not the deepest dip into the dramatics pool. But Egleson messes this up by trying to indulge his own artistic pretensions. This is filmmaking as self-referential game playing, with far too many in-jokes, cinematic asides and knowing winks to the camera-conscious crowd. What ends up being sacrificed is any kind of thematic resonance, the ability for the movie to make a statement grander than the obvious antics playing out inside the frame. All the mock commercial crap and muddling montage work cannot hide the simple fact that Reddin's work is no longer relevant to a modern, post-millennial audience. We are far too touchy-feely in our 21st century state to see supermodels and power brokers breaking down in derivative despair. Perhaps as a headstone to the entire wanton wasteland of the '80s, Big Time has some manner of universal meaning. But thanks to indulgent direction, horrible miscasting, and a general lack of meaningful message, this paean to the decade of greed and excess is far too minimal in its narrative measure to effectively engage us.

Presented by First Look Home Entertainment in a very nice DVD package, Big Time looks its name in the vibrant visual presentation here. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is stunning, highlighting all of Egelson's excessive camera trickery with crystal clarity. Even with the use of differing film stocks, the switch between monochrome and supersaturation in the color scheme and the overall gloomy mood lighting, the picture itself looks great. Sonically, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is a little less atmospheric than a home theater lover would like. The lack of channel-varying elements and an overall flat aural palette results in a soundscape that is surprisingly lifeless. As for extras, the self-indulgent dynamic just keeps on chugging along. In the director interview, Egleson underscores all the "borrowing" he did, both visually and specifically for the film. Cinematographer Paul Goldsmith is featured in a "conversation" that is daffy with framing foolishness and other tricks to hide the fact that not much is said. Along with a still gallery and some trailers, the extras are interesting, if not very insightful.

Not that Big Time deserves any better. Maybe in another era this self-righteous rant against materialism and idealism destroying emotional commitment might reverberate with an understanding audience. But today, it's the droning of dimwits channeled through a cinematic commitment to confuse. Whatever the message was, Big Time's medium all but destroys it.

Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 58

Perp Profile
Studio: First Look Pictures
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English

Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Interview with Director Jan Egleson
* A "Conversation" with Cinematographer Paul Goldsmith
* Still Gallery
* Trailers

* IMDb