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Radioland Murders

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Radioland Murders

Starring: Mary Stuart Masterson, Brian Benben
Director: Mel Smith
Rated: PG
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: October 1994
Genres: Comedy, Mystery, Suspense

*Also starring: Ned Beatty, Scott Michael Campbell, Michael Lerner, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Stephen Tobolowsky, Christopher Lloyd, Harvey Korman, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Burns, Rosemary Clooney, Brion James, Candy Clark

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

In the Darwinian dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood every day is a struggle not only to reach the top, but also to keep this lofty position once acquired. However, there are few individuals that have reached such a godlike status and reputation of infallibility which allows them to make colossal errors mere mortals couldn't have afforded. When disasters occur, those people can always claim that they had something other in mind than commercial hit or ambitious work of art. One of such individuals is George Lucas, whose ambitious attempt to pay homage to the cultural influences of his youth resulted in RADIOLAND MURDERS, 1994 comedy directed by Mel Smith.

The plot of the film is set in Chicago 1939, when WBN, 4th major radio-network in USA, makes its nation-wide debut. The big opening results in absolute chaos, yet the station manager Penny Henderson (played by Mary Stuart Henderson) would soon discover that the tyrannical boss, heartless sponsors, capricious actors, underpaid writers at the edge of armed revolt and her soon-to-be-ex-husband Roger Henderson (played by Brian Benben) aren't the worst of her problems. During the night a mysterious voice gets on the air and makes threats, and soon various people there are getting killed. Roger becomes major suspect and he is forced to find the real killer and save his own marriage in the process.

At first sight, RADIOLAND MURDERS might be seen as nothing more than a vanity project - Lucas' attempt to flash his financial and technical might, especially by employing expensive (and at the time experimental) CGI effects in a period piece that could have worked nicely without them. However, George Lucas, who was producer and author of screen story, deliberately set the plot in 1939 and based it around radio-station in order to recreate and pay homage to the radio-stations that used to be the main source of entertainment for Americans before the advent of television. Woody Allen did the same thing few years earlier in his nostalgic comedy RADIO DAYS, but for Lucas radio broadcasts of 1930s and 1940s had additional value "pulpish" adventure and science fiction plays that turned into precious source of inspiration for STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES.

Unfortunately, Lucas chose the wrong genre for that, trying to pay homage both to radio culture and slapstick comedies in 1930s. The result is often very messy, since his screenwriting team lacks the talent to mimic slapstick classics of the time. Instead, they flood the audience with ridiculous number of gags, with only a fraction of them being funny. However, good acting and occasional laugh are reasons enough to judge RADIOLAND MURDERS as an entertainment, and not only a vanity project.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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