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Case Number 01005

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The Tic Code

Universal // 1998 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // March 24th, 2001

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All Rise...

Judge Norman Short delivers a review of this touching and educational film. Do you mean to tell me Bill Murray's depiction of the disease in What About Bob? wasn't accurate?

The Charge

Every family has something to hide.

Opening Statement

Combining strong performances and jazz music into what might otherwise be an After-School Special, The Tic Code is better as a moving educational experience than a story. The main focus of the story is of the effects Tourette's Syndrome has on a young musical prodigy, whose father, a famous composer, has rejected him. The film is sincere and moving without being overly manipulative, and rose above expectations. Universal surprisingly has released the film in full frame, with a Dolby Surround track, and only a trailer for extra content.

Facts of the Case

Miles (Christopher George Marquette) is a gifted young man. He worships jazz music and can play it unlike any kid his age. But one thing holds him back: the facial tics, glottal sounds, and uncontrollable gestures of Tourette's Syndrome. His father is a rich composer of film musical scores, but has abandoned the family, who live in a fairly shabby apartment, and it is apparent that his son is the reason. Polly Draper (who also wrote and produced the film) is his long-suffering mother, who makes dresses out of her flat and rarely sees anyone outside it. Still, the relationship between mother and son is strong, and she encourages him in his music, which he practices at a local jazz club during the afternoons. It is during one of those days he meets Tyrone (Gregory Hines), a jazz saxophonist of incredible skill but who also suffers from Tourette's. The pair make a good combination while romance seems to be blooming between Tyrone and Laura, Miles' mother. While Miles struggles with school bullies and the loss of his father due to the condition, it is apparent Tyrone hasn't really dealt with it at all, and runs away from relationships when it comes up. The title of the film is the ingenious way they explain the facial tics to a bully; that it is a secret code developed by the CIA.

The Evidence

Part romance, part coming of age tale, both of these plots are things to hinge awareness of Tourette's Syndrome on for the audience. Even the jazz, which is nearly constantly played during the film, plays second fiddle, if you'll pardon the pun. Though my first sarcastic quip about the film was "The Jazzercized After School Special," I found myself surprised and impressed as the film progressed. Rather than just wrap you in sentimental sympathy for this young man, Miles is played simply and honestly. He isn't a perfect kid; he has problems that have nothing to do with Tourette's. It was also interesting to see how Gregory Hines handled Tourette's with his character; and how it differed for an adult. The performances all around were surprisingly solid; especially Marquette, who has this part down cold. I essentially saw him play the same part on an episode of "Touched By an Angel" (don't ask) and I had the opinion he really suffered from the malady. Apparently he does not, but everyone familiar with the condition says he is very accurate in showing its effects. Less apparent but adding immeasurably to the story was a very authentic supporting cast, such as Miles' friend Todd and the host of jazz musicians that hang out with Tyrone. The banter in less dramatic scenes was among the high points of the film.

Ultimately this is a story to make people aware of Tourette's Syndrome and the plight of those affected by it. The film succeeds very well in this; I feel much better educated on the subject, and didn't feel lectured to in the process.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

There remain weaknesses to the story, however. The romance between Polly Draper and Gregory Hines seems cursory at best, and there is little chemistry there. Even the subplot between Miles and his father seemed a bit tacked on, in order to make the film about something other than Tourette's. Of course both those subplots bring you right back to the main topic, but seem to be distractions at times. Here is where the inevitable comparisons to a "disease of the week" After School Special come in. Fortunately the strong performances allow the film to rise above that lowly state. Oddly the film is rated R, despite a lack of nudity or graphic violence. It appears that some strong language is the culprit, which would supposedly rob teenagers from seeing a film that would actually be beneficial to them. I hate the ratings system more every day.

Less happy is the lackluster DVD presentation. Universal usually does a better job than this. A full frame transfer as the only choice? A shame that we couldn't have an anamorphic transfer. The film didn't see much screen time in the theaters, but it did get a run. So it had to be widescreen at one time or another. That said, the film looks quite good, with only a few blemishes, scratches and some film grain to mar an otherwise solid transfer. The sound fares better, even though it is only a Dolby Surround track. The jazz music is the real highlight here; the smooth sounds come through loud and clear. Dialogue is anchored to the center and is clearly understood. Extra content unfortunately is restricted to a trailer. Overall I was quite disappointed with the DVD, far more than I was with the film.

Closing Statement

The film is warm and sincere, and educational to boot, so it's worth watching. Give it a rental some night and you won't be disappointed. The disc itself doesn't warrant purchase, but is suitable for a rental.

The Verdict

Universal is given a suspended sentence for seemingly just tossing this release out there without the level of quality we've come to expect from them. The film's makers are all acquitted, and thanked for the lesson on a condition few know about. The film ratings board members are sentenced to death, messily and with cruel and unusual punishment.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 86
Extras: 30
Acting: 89
Story: 78
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


• IMDb

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