Modern Problems (1981)

Rating: D-

Dir: Ken Shapiro
Star: Chevy Chase, Patti D’Arbanville, Dabney Coleman, Mary Kay Place

Chase nearly got fried making this movie, when a mock landing light short-circuited through his body. Chevy: this was God’s way of hinting subtly that you might not want to bother with this one. It’s a startlingly mean-spirited “comedy”, notable solely for a wonderful turn by Coleman as an obnoxious author of self-help books, with titles like Get Behind Me and Stay There. A film centred on his character might have been fun; it’d certainly have been preferable to this. Chase plays Max, a recently-dumped air-traffic controller, who has an encounter with nuclear waste which gives him telekinetic powers. I’m sure you can see the side-splitting potential inherent in this concept.

Unfortunately, the scriptwriters couldn’t. There’s so much stuff here which is neither relevant nor funny. Max’s relationship with his ex-wife (Place). His high-school friend, crippled in ‘Nam, and now a book publisher. His job, bloated with potential for humour (especially given his new abilities), goes almost entirely unexploited. You think they might unintentionally stumble across something amusing now and again, but with a skill that’s almost eerie, the film delicately avoids these too. Coleman is the exception, but is fighting a losing battle, in the face of Chase’s mugging. For Chevy, the seeds of his own destruction were beginning to sprout; films like this one were merely a nice dose of fertilizer.