1/27/11

Deadly Doll’s Choice: Thinner (1996) - A Slip of a Picture

When Emily from the Deadly Doll’s House of Horror Nonsense chose this month’s movie swap for me, I hope she was just adding another Stephen King title to my already King heavy month and not giving me a hint. Just like about everyone else I know, I always feel like I’m carrying around a few extra pounds that I could stand to lose. Over the years I’ve tried a few different diets, promised to exercise (I can’t even pretend to have done that.), and thought long and hard about changing my eating habits. A few years back I even managed to stick to it long enough to drop thirty pounds, but since then, still some twenty or more pounds from my ultimate goal, I’ve reverted to bags of Doritos, Reece’s Cups, and, my one holdover from weight loss, twelve packs of Diet Dr. Pepper replacing my good old full sugar soda. What I never did was look for an easy way to lose weight. I didn’t try diet pills or crazy vibrating belts or gypsy curses. Did I say gypsy curses? Yep, I sure did because today’s film tells the tale of a man who follows that weight loss plan, and he drops those few extra pounds…then a few more… then a few more.

Practicing her pose for future roller coaster pictures.
Thinner was first published in 1984 under King’s pseudonym Richard Bachman. It would be the last book King published under the name until 1996, and it was the only Bachman book to feature an author’s picture on the back cover (in actuality it is a picture of King’s agent’s insurance salesman Richard Manuel). The same year “Bachman” came back with the novel The Regulators, Thinner was finally adapted to the big screen. Robert John Burke starred as Billy Halleck, an obese defense attorney who works the good old boy system for all it’s worth. On his way home from dinner with his wife, she tries to convince Billy there’s other things to life than just eating. Things like getting oral sex while you’re driving. Billy, in his clearly distracted state, runs down an old gypsy crossing the street. Colluding with his legal buddies, the lawyer shoulders to blame for what is deemed an “accidental” death, but the gypsy’s ancient father, Tadzu Lemke (Michael Constantine) curses him with a single word, “thinner”. At first, he loses about two pounds a day, but soon his weight starts falling more rapidly. The curse leaves Billy wasting away to his death, and his only hope is to use any means to get Lemke to remove the curse.

It's alright Jiminy, Joe Mantegna is here. 
Thinner is one of the few Stephen King books I’ve read more than once. I have something of a fascination with the novels he wrote under the Richard Bachman name stemming from my love for The Running Man. While the movie stays fairly true to the book (save for the ending), there is something lost in the translation here. I think it all started falling apart for me in the beginning, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Robert John Burke’s portly lawyer looked a hell of a lot like Martin Short when he donned a fat suit to play Hollywood mench Jiminy Glick. Burke, who is an actor I love from his time on Oz and Law & Order, plays the part well enough, but until the pounds and prosthetics begin to fade, it is hard to take the character and his troubles seriously at all. It doesn’t help that Billy Halleck is never a sympathetic character. Even as he wastes away, he allows his mobbed up friend Richie (Joe Mantegna phoning it in and doing the broadest Italian performance I’ve ever seen) to terrorize the gypsy camp. Halleck learns nothing from his ordeal, and the ending to the movie just reinforces that fact. The book, having the benefit of fleshing out motivations and ideas, leaves the reader in a very different place.

Hey Kari, it was a joke. You're a great actress!
That’s not to say there are not things I like about the cinematic translation of Thinner. As Billy gets thinner, the effects and makeup work are stupendous. The special makeup effects were handled by Greg Cannom (Dreamscape, Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and coincidentally Big Mama’s House), and while I didn’t like fat Billy, the thinner the character gets the more impressive the visual effect was. I also liked Kari Wuhrer as the granddaughter of Lemke. Ok. Let’s be honest. I like it that she flashed her panties. I know it’s crass, but it’s true. Other than that, I have no idea why she was there. The gypsies themselves were played as terrible stereotypes, which admittedly were what they were in the book, and in a way I kept waiting on Drag Me to Hell to crossover at any moment. There’s also a very nice little appearance by Peter Maloney, George Benning in Carpenter’s The Thing, and Stephen King shows up as a pharmacist by the name of Mr. Bangor. (Bangor being the Maine town where King has long made his home.)

There's a good reason you shouldn't mess with Arlo Guthrie.
While reading Thinner, one of King’s (pun intended) leaner books, the story seems like it would make an incredible movie, and there are flashes of it here. However, director Tom Holland has made some great films (Fright Night, Child’s Play) and some real duds (Stephen King’s The Langoliers) in his career. Unfortunately, I think this one falls into the later category with his other King adaptation. Thinner is not a terrible movie. I mean it wouldn’t put me off my lunch, but it did teach me two very important lessons. First off, a gypsy curse will probably never catch on as a diet craze (though if any of you have done Atkins you’ll know what I mean when I say it feels awful similar.). Then secondly, Thinner will make me much more careful. Not about how I drive, but rather which pies I choose to eat. You never know what might be in them.

Bugg Rating 

4 comments:

  1. I think you mean 1996, not 1986.

    As for the film, I haven't seen it in many years. I thought it was okay but nothing really great. I would say more about it if I could remember what was in the film [which I don't]. I guess that says it all, doesn't it? I do agree about digging the SFX though - probably the most memorable part of the film.

    Great review as always.

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  2. Yeah, I know it's nowhere near being an actual good movie, but I do love the concept and, as you know, am something of a sucker for mid-90s horror. I suppose it's because that's the generation where I went to the movies the most that I'm fascinated to see how oddly it holds up.

    Also, I love that ending!

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  3. I dislike this movie not just because it's mediocre at best, but because it killed Tom Holland's career...

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  4. This movie is classic. An easy 5/5. Anyone who doesn't agree, has no taste in Stephen King movies. Opinions (replies) that I've read on this page seem to be invalid: "Oh its no good." "Oh its no where near being an actual film." I mean... whats with all the hate. Now, I know everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. Now I respect that. But... Authur! I dont know... but rating this movie as 2/2!? Really? I "everyone has right to their own opinions"... but really? 2 friggin' bugs out of 2?! Now thats just messed. I'm sorry, but... YOU GUYS want an "actual" film? Okay! "STEPHEN KING'S THE SHINING MINISERIES" "That" was what I heard: S*****. Just an opinion. "But" I've never seen it. So I cant say for myself.... Come on; Joe Mantagna. Kari Wuhrer. Michael Constantine. And STEPHEN KING! I mean, come on! They were (an opinion) the best in this film (THINNER). AGAIN. STEPHEN KING'S THINNER: 5/5

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