Reviewed by Reed Hubbard
Rating: 8 Beans
uccess in one entertainment medium does not necessarily translate to other areas. In other words, just because you’re a big TV star, don’t get it in your head that you’ll burn up the movies, too (just ask David Caruso!) It’s a shame that someone didn’t impart this wisdom to Shelley Long in 1987. After six seasons of “Cheers,” in which she brilliantly portrayed egghead waitress Diane Chambers, Long decided to pack her bags and jump headlong into movies. Life all comes down to a few key moments, and this decision has to be a moment Ms. Long wishes she could have back, not only because she left one of TV’s greatest situation comedies at its zenith, but also because she chose such a terrible movie for her debut into motion picture stardom. That movie was the incredibly misconceived comedy, “Hello Again.”
“Hello Again” was not Shelley Long’s first movie role. During the previous years she did some fantastic work as a supporting actress and/or co-star in several films such as “Irreconcilable Differences” and “Night Shift.” But “Hello Again” was her first starring vehicle, and it’s a vehicle which sputters and dies like a ’78 Pinto needing a tune-up.
The premise of the movie is actually quite promising. Long plays Lucy Chadman, a Long Island housewife who dies, only to be resurrected by her spiritualist sister Zelda (Judith Ivey) one year later. It’s the typical “fish out of water” story, and had the comedic focus been on Lucy’s attempts to fit back in, we may have seen a cute version of “Austin Powers” one decade earlier. But director Frank Perry chose to make a sentimentality play rather than a lighthearted comedy, and the result is a meandering film with little to sustain the viewer’s interest, save the sheer shock value of how stupid a screenplay can become.
As the movie opens, Lucy and her husband, Dr. Jason Chadman (Corbin Bernsen), attend a fancy party given by a wealthy benefactor of the hospital where Jason works. Lucy doesn’t fit in with the snobs, but rather than feel for her we start to pity her, as she is revealed to be a terrible klutz. Her skirt falls down, her blouse dips in the marinara sauce, she sits in pudding. The sad part is that these are the ONLY comedic moments in the first fifteen minutes. In fact, there are no jokes in this movie at all. The comedy (if it can be called that) comes from Lucy’s klutziness and Zelda’s wackiness, neither of which is enough to garner any real laughs.
The script introduces many comedic opportunities and wastes them immediately. In the year after her death, Lucy’s husband has married her best friend Kim (Sela Ward), a woman who is everything Lucy isn’t. Lucy catches them in bed together and all three of them start screaming. Then the tension sags like a wet taco as Lucy and Jason go outside for a heart-to-heart where Lucy understands how lonely Jason had been and Jason asks Lucy how she’s doing and everybody gets all mushy. All this is set to tinkling piano music in an attempt to set a touching mood. Yuck.
Anyway, since the comedic angle has been forgone, what’s left is a total mess. The premise of a woman brought back from the dead doesn't work if people start talking about how and why. Once the issue of credibility is introduced, the story is shot. Halfway into “Hello Again,” the story of Lucy’s resurrection breaks, and the rest of the film is based on her newfound celebrity. So now, Lucy gets to bumble and stumble in front of the whole world as everyone just automatically buys that a woman can cheat death through some hokey witchcraft. The huge press corps never investigates the claims of Lucy, Zelda and Lucy’s doctor, Kevin Scanlon (played by an embarrassed Gabriel Byrne. What on earth was HE thinking?)
You see, the story has no where to go! It’s not a comedy, except for the occasional pratfall, and the sentimental side, awkward at best, peters out after Lucy reconnects with all her former lifemates. So how about romance? Well, there’s a sparkless, uninspired thing between Lucy and Dr. Scanlon that fails dreadfully. Maybe set up a conflict, huh? Jason starts to miss Lucy after she gets worldwide attention which makes Kim jealous, so she calls a press conference to discredit Lucy, claiming Lucy took a drug to pretend she was dead. But Lucy just rolls over so everyone thinks she’s a fake and hates her and we’re all supposed to feel sorry for her. Yeah, right.
This tangle of cinematic garbage leads to the most implausible denouement in recent memory. I won’t reveal what happens in case someone is watching WGN at 3am someday, but suffice it to say that everyone makes up in the end. La de da de da!
Poor Shelley never recovered from this floppola. She actually gives a commendable performance in trying to make the film work, but she is so constricted by the narrow role that she, much like the movie, flounders and dies. At last report she was playing bit roles like that of Carol Brady in the Brady Bunch movies. She has even tried to get back on TV with a couple of failed sitcoms. Alas, it seems that her departure from “Cheers” was truly a defining moment for her. I imagine that she would love to have that moment back, so that upon reading the script for “Hello Again” she could quickly say, “Goodbye!”
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