Ron Howard's newest film isn't bad and it isn't good. It's just not what it could be.
Thursday, April 1, 1999
The watch factor: Film critics know it by heart (we all bought stock in Timex''s Indiglo line years ago), and most everybody else will recognize it in at least some form or another. It''s when--and how many times--you find yourself consciously checking your watch during the course of a film''s running time. It rarely, if ever, bodes well for the film in question.
EDtv, a film with an impressive cast, caught me punching my fob not once, not twice, but five successive times. I keep a running tally if I go past three.
What''s wrong with Howard''s tale of workaday mensch Ed Pekurny (McConaughey) who opts to have his every waking and sleeping moment filmed by floundering cable station TrueTV? It''s certainly not McConaughey''s amicable performance as the Bay Area lout with a heart of gold. The same goes for Harrelson''s turn as Ed''s gooney hyper-masculine brother, and Elfman''s turn as Ed''s emerging love interest (she strikes me, though, as an actress who walks that thin line between fetching perkiness and kvetching annoyance. Like a terrier, she''s not everybody''s cup of tea). And Howard''s film, written by his longtime collaborators Babaloo Mandell and Lowell Ganz >(Night Shift, Splash, Parenthood), is packed with the kind of topical, pop-culture witticisms that almost always seem to ensure a hit. Like last year''s The Truman Show, to which EDtv is being unfairly compared (the two are miles apart in almost every aspect), Howard''s film is champing at the bit to comment on our American culture of white trash insta-fame and Springeristic jingoisms.
Ed originally enters into his agreement with TrueTV to help raise capital for his brother''s proposed chain of workout centers. Once he finds himself courted by the masses, that changes a bit; later in the film, when the masses get greedy (as they always do), Ed''s attitude toward his newfound celebrity doubles back once again. There''s more of a sustained character arc here than in any three John Grisham adaptations. What fails, if that''s the correct word, is that EDtv doesn''t gel into the punctilious war cry against mediocrity that it so rightly strives to be; instead, we''re left with a pretty solid Ron Howard comedy of manners, which isn''t bad at all. It''s just not what we were led to expect. Still, Howard fills the frames with a number of outright hilarious touches, chief among them the return of brother Clint as TrueTV''s mobile uplink guy. As MTV so astutely pointed out during its 1998 Movie Awards special, Clint Howard is a bedrock genre actor and damn the fact that he more closely resembles a turnip than a man.
It''s also worth noting that one of the cronies of Rob Reiner (as the scheming head of TrueTV) is none other that Don "Ralph Malph" Most, Richie Cunningham''s old fiery-haired crony. Clearly it''s old home week. Neither a revelation nor a total wash, EDtv is instead solid comic filmmaking. I just can''t help but think it could have been so much more.