Judge Alice Nelson was hoping to see at least one appearance by Kim Fields. Come on Tootie!
Our review of The Fields (Blu-ray), published April 25th, 2012, is also available.
Tara Reid's wig deserves an acting credit all its own.
I'm doing a public service by warning you about The Fields. Based on events from the childhood of writer Harrison Smith, the script goes in so many different directions the narrative has no coherent identity. It's like watching endless footage of someone's vacation; after a while you don't care what's happening and by the end you realize tranquilizers would've been far more stimulating.
Facts of the Case
In October 1973, Steven (Joshua Ormond) is sent to live with his grandparents in Pennsylvania, while his folks—Bonnie (Tara Reid, American Pie) and Barry (Faust Checho)—work out difficulties in their marriage. With the foul mouthed skill of a world weary sailor, Grandma Gladys (Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show) tells little Steven that the cornfield next to their house is evil; he must stay out of it, or end up dead, black, and bloated. How very grandmotherly of her. But Steven is a curious lad and ventures into the field, disregarding his grandmother's warning. Once inside, he finds the dead body of a young girl, setting off a chain of events that—even after having a full day to think about it—still doesn't make sense. Suffice it to say, it involves hippies and a smelly farm hand.
The Fields is a series of disconnected events that completely loses its anchor after the first third of the film. Directed by Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni, the "two heads are better than one" adage doesn't pay off in the least, giving the film a disjointed and schizophrenic feel. Is it a mystery, a suspense film, a boyhood autobiography, a story of the hippie culture of the '70s? It's hard to tell, because it tries to be all these things and does none of them well.
Although Steven is supposed to be the pivotal role in the film, the character is reduced to bit player status when he enters the dysfunctional world of Grandma Gladys (Leachman) and Grandpa Hiney (Bev Appleton, The Contender). (Yes, grandpa's name is Hiney.) Steven gets lost in their strange and volatile marriage, where constant bickering overshadows the boy's understated personality. We never fully get a sense of who Steven is or what he's feeling, as he struggles with an impending divorce and finding a dead body in the cornfield.
In an inexplicable turn, Steven and his grandparents are harassed by a group of wandering hippies and their friend—a less than desirable employee at the local dairy farm. They're all squatting in an abandoned amusement park just behind the cornfield, near (you guessed it) the dead body of the girl. The way the hippies flit through town like they're part of some Woodstock documentary is laughable and their roles are wasted. We do get a payoff of sorts in the end, but it's hardly worth waiting for. Besides, I bet you'd be able to figure out the twist way before it happens.
Joshua Ormond's portrayal of Steven is spot on, his acting shouldn't win him any awards, but he is sincere and because of that outshines everyone. Bev Appleton's Pappy, as he likes to be called (you would too if your name was Hiney), is more subtle in its approach, whereas Leachman's performance is affected. It always feels like she's playing a role, trying to too hard to be Gladys but never enough to be believable. In the bonus features, we're told Leachman watched footage of the real Gladys and constantly asked the family questions so she would be true to who the woman really was. Unfortunately, all of Leachman's cursing and posturing comes across as a cheap impersonation.
On a sad note, Tara Reid is in this film; sad because this isn't a role that will spearhead comeback. Her acting isn't horrible, it's just forgettable, especially compared to the synthetic wig-like thing clamped onto her head. This poorly constructed hairpiece is so distracting that every time it appears all I can do is stare and wonder if the wind will carry it to a better place. Then again, once Reid drops her son off at her parents' house, we scarcely see her again…which isn't so bad considering The Fields only gets worse from there.
Presented in standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, one of the few interesting aspects of the film is the color contrast between scenes shot at the grandparents' house and the cornfield. The colors at the Gladys and Hiney's are dull, almost sepia toned, the sky cloudy and dark, a representation of their lives. But in the fields, the sky is a beautiful cloudless blue, and the colors become brighter, as if Steven has stepped into a different world. Maybe that was the point. Even though the cornfield contains the dead body of a young girl and wild hippies that torment him, it still seems to be a form of escape from the troubles of his young life. Too bad The Fields didn't focus more on this; it would've been a far more interesting tale. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix highlights a decent score by composer John Avarese.
The bonus features are as long and meandering as the film itself, including a far too lengthy behind the scenes featurette, a look at some of the real people the story is based on, some "funny" outtakes that really aren't funny, a small blooper reel with Cloris Leachman, a photo gallery, and a trailer.
The Fields has the potential to be an endearing tale of a young boy at a crucial point in his life, with a little murder mystery thrown in for kicks. Instead, we get a collection of stories thrown together in the hopes they stick…and they don't
Stay out of this corn field…please!
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