Judge Diane Wild is not the cheese, but she had to smell it for 100 minutes, and she resents that.
"The cheese stands alone
The cheese stands alone
Hi-ho, the derry-o
The cheese stands alone."
Watching this movie was possibly my punishment for being crass enough not to have liked or understood the bestselling book it was based on, back when I read it as a teen. I Am The Cheese is a loose adaptation of that book, taking liberties with the ending, so must stand alone as a film. Unfortunately, I had to stand with it.
Adam Farmer (Robert MacNaughton, E.T.) is a glum 15-year-old who knows there is something off in his isolated life. He begins to unravel the mystery, which involves government conspiracies, spies, and the witness protection program. Or something. His present day bicycle journey to find his parents is interspersed with flashbacks to his slightly mysterious life in the past, when his only connection was to girlfriend Amy (Cynthia Nixon, Sex and the City), and to his more recent past under the care of a psychiatrist (Robert Wagner, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) who is possibly trying to help him uncover the truth.
I Am The Cheese unfolds at an unbearably slow pace. While thematically its disconnected, often nonsensical scenes mirror Adam's disconnected, often fantastical thoughts, that's too much of an intellectual exercise to make an entertaining or fulfilling movie. The idea of what makes us who we are, and where memory and experience fit in to that equation, is in there somewhere, but again, the movie doesn't really convey that in any real way. It's a psychological mystery with little tension or emotion, other than confusion. The constant flashbacks make the fragmented story even harder to follow.
The movie jumps immediately into Adam's awkward romance with Amy, who adds what little life there is to the film thanks to a young Cynthia Nixon. A poker-faced Robert Wagner plays Adam's psychiatrist, and has some of the most stilted dialogue in a movie filled with nothing but stilted dialogue or silence. Adam's parents, played by Don Murray (Knots Landing)and Hope Lange (Ghost and Mrs. Muir) are flat one minute, falsely animated the next, and their actions never fully make sense even if we accept that we're seeing them through the filter of Adam's memory or imagination.
Though the book is a young adult classic (author Robert Cormier makes a cameo appearance as Amy's father), the movie isn't likely to appeal to that audience any more than to older adults.
There is a menu item for bonus features, but it contains only a photo gallery of stills from the movie and a few trailers. This is a bare bones DVD release of a relatively bare bones production, with dismal video and audio quality. The sparsely used score echoes the Farmer in the Dell melody, which is either a nice touch or overkill by a director who feared the audience wouldn't get the Adam Farmer—Farmer in the Dell—The Cheese Stands Alone—I Am The Cheese connection. The sound is muffled and frequently distorted, while the soft fullscreen transfer looks every bit its 20+ years. The color balance is way off, varying between washed out and intense red or blue tints, and grain and artifacts abound.
Fans of the book are more likely to be upset at the differences in the movie, but there's not much else to recommend this DVD beyond its connection to Robert Cormier's well-loved novel.
Guilty of a definite cheesy odor.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Empire Pictures
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