Today was a good day for lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) as although he hasn't lost much weight from his three hundred pound frame, something his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney) is continually nagging him about, at work he did a sterling job of getting his Mafia client Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna) out of the conviction he was facing, and now knows if there's ever a favour he needs from the gangster, all he has to do is ask. Tonight, to celebrate, he and his wife go out for a meal, which all goes well until the drive home and and encounter with a gypsy...
I say encounter, what I mean is that Halleck ploughs straight into an old woman crossing the street, killing her instantly. As this was a horror movie, and the deceased was a gypsy, you can guess how this pans out, yup, with the lawyer getting cursed by the woman's father (Michael Constantine) with one ominous word, "Thinner". This was adapted from a novel by Richard Bachman, and was in fact the book that was released around the time it was revealed Bachman was actually blockbusting writer Stephen King, thereby increasing the sales of his alter ego as the fans scrabbled to get their hands on the material under that alias.
King had even had the cheek to mention himself in the text, where one character observes the premise is like something out of a Stephen King novel, but it was only a matter of time before his subterfuge was exposed, and an interesting quirk in a great career passed into history, though oddly new Bachman novels were published over the following decades even though everyone knew who he was. Some ideas are too good to let go of, perhaps, but the concept behind Thinner was not one of the master horror author's better ones, as was laid bare by this version of it which made it all too obvious what was amusing on the page looked hokey and silly on the big screen.
Not helping was the performance of Burke, normally a perfectly decent actor who here was getting one of his rare starring roles but curiously playing it in a broad, cartoonish fashion as if he did not have faith in the plot, or indeed his extensive makeup which had to make him convincingly fat and then convincingly thin. That makeup did look a little rubbery from occasional angles, but was serviceable enough, it's just that Burke seemed to think fat equalled funny, and though there were precious few jokes in the script, this was more of a comical reading of Halleck than was in the book, except not funny anyway. Once he got out of the bulked up suit and into the skinny version of himself, things improved a tad.
But the fact remained that for a King adaptation, this was more B-list, C-list even, than one of the more prestigious productions no matter that Mantegna showed up again for a late on turn as the embodiment of Halleck's vengeful curse on the gypsies in an anything you can do development. Kari Wuhrer seized her opportunities as a spitting hellcat who sums up the attitude her people have towards outsiders, especially outsiders who run over members of her family, but this was a rather flat adaptation otherwise, in spite of director Tom Holland springing to life for a setpiece or two. He managed to stay pretty close to the book, although here Heidi is the subject of suspicion of adultery to justify the ending, which was changed from the original anyway when test audiences objected. It didn't really matter, this was strictly serviceable and it was unfortunate that the story didn't hold up to scrutiny once it was acted out. Music by Daniel Licht.
Although the book of this isn't my favorite thing from Stephen King (i'd have to say Carrie is), this is the best book-movie adaptation his stuff has really had. It works well considering the basic idea of the plot, which could have been taken anywhere, but its in the right place. I'm glad we haven't heard about a remake for this yet either, but i won't put it past them to do so.
6 Feb 2012
I have a soft spot for Thinner because it's the first Stephen King book I ever read, but I'll admit he did better elsewhere. I suppose the film version is as good as can be expected, but for me there are more entertaining adaptations of his work.
Plenty of King remakes on the way, so they say, with The Stand, Firestarter, It and others supposedly in production. Not much call for Thinner, though, so maybe they did get it right here.
8 Feb 2012
I stopped hearing about the Stand ages ago, and didn't even know about the others.