Monday, September 8, 2014

#1,484. Modern Problems (1981)

Directed By: Ken Shapiro

Starring: Chevy Chase, Patti D'Arbanville, Dabney Coleman

Tag line: "A broken-hearted man + amazing moving powers = Out-of-control fun"

Trivia: Contains Dabney Coleman's only on-screen nude scene

There was a time (about 30 years ago) when I thought 1981’s Modern Problems was a funny movie. Well, I was wrong. The truth of the matter is it’s a comedy that, aside from a few good scenes, fails to generate any real laughs.

Max (Chevy Chase), who works as an air traffic controller, slips into a depression when his girlfriend Darcy (Patti D’Arbanville) walks out on him. But that’s just the start of his troubles, because while Max is out driving one night, a truck carrying nuclear waste accidentally releases some of its toxic cargo, which splashes onto his car. This may prove fatal for most people, but not for Max, who, thanks to the poisonous sludge, has developed telekinetic powers! Will his new abilities help Max win back the girl of his dreams, or will they simply cause him to lose his mind?

Modern Problems gets off to a good start with a scene featuring Max at work, where he and his fellow air traffic controllers focus on everything but their jobs (one controller tries to pass an incoming flight off on a co-worker when he learns the pilot just dropped dead). The movie also boasts a couple of solid supporting performances, delivered by Brian Doyle-Murray (playing Max’s old high school chum, Brian, who, due to a tragic accident in Vietnam, is now confined to a wheelchair) and Dabney Coleman (as the egotistical self-help author Mark Winslow, who’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is). One of the film’s funnier sequences has Max and Darcy (who, by this point, have reconciled) visiting Brian’s beach house for the weekend, only to raise all sorts of hell when Max’s powers finally get the better of him.

For the majority of its runtime, however, Modern Problems is a lifeless comedy. The early scenes, where sad sack Max spends his days pining for Darcy, are more depressing than humorous, and the mischief Max gets into once he has his powers is surprisingly tame (save the sequence where he uses telekinesis to give Darcy the best orgasm she’s ever experienced). In movies such as Caddyshack, Seems like Old Times, and Fletch, Chevy Chase showed the world that, with the right material, he could make people laugh. In Modern Problems, he doesn’t show us much of anything at all.

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