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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Folks!' Hits a Nerve, Not Funny Bone

May 04, 1992|CHRIS WILLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If gays and lesbians think they're getting a bad rap in the movies, consider the filmic lot of the elderly. First "Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot," now "Folks!" (citywide). Where are the Gray Panthers when you need them?

This time, it's the aged dad that's the wacky one. Suave screen great Don Ameche stars as the dementia-stricken father who's literally driving Tom Selleck insane, while cogent mom Anne Jackson patiently looks on. Eventually the parents decide to get out of their adult children's way by offing themselves. Hoo ha!

Rather than stop them, crazed Selleck, who gets physically maimed so many times due to Ameche's antics that he has to stop to inventory his remaining extremities, is only too happy to assist in their attempted suicide--except, of course, Ameche's too absent-minded to even kill himself right.

There's a slight problem with this premise: Senility isn't inherently funny. It has been, arguably, in "Where's Poppa?" and more recently "Throw Momma From the Train," when the filmmakers were up to playing the black comedy for all the blackness it was worth, testing outrageous limits and hitting feelings close to home.

"Folks!" (rated PG-13) was even scripted by Robert Klane, the same writer responsible for "Where's Poppa?," the 1970 Carl Reiner cult movie that had George Segal trying to hasten Ruth Gordon's demise. The plots hold remarkable similarities, and "Poppa" might have been due for a topical updating, given the increased number of baby-boomers now faced with the dilemma of how to care for aging parents.

But Klane has written this one as less of a slow burn, going instead for obnoxiously stunt-filled, madcap farce, all the way to the high-concept-reinforcing title exclamation point. Just in case it ever had a hope of working, most everyone involved seems wrong for their roles--starting with director Ted Kotcheff, who heightens the slapstick but brings few shadings to this anemically photographed, anemically felt movie.

Poor Jackson appears peaceful and distracted, as if trying to astrally project herself into a better movie, wearing a little-old-lady wig that looks about ready to fly off in transit. Ameche, stuck doing "Mr. Short-Term Memory"-type jokes, is such a sympathetic actor that you feel too much pity, both for his character and him as a performer, to enjoy laughs at his expense. And Selleck, while OK when called on to be amiable, doesn't really have murderous lunacy in his repertoire.

Also ill-used are Christine Ebersole, doing a gold-digger shtick as the divorced sexpot sister, and Michael Murphy, an FBI "sting" agent setting up stockbroker Selleck in an irrelevant subplot.

Michel Columbier's vapid, jazz-lite score highlights the movie's lack of resolve, going all sugary every time there's a "serious" scene with the folks, to let us know to stop laughing. That, as it turns out, is no problem.

'Folks!'

Tom Selleck: Jon Aldrich

Don Ameche: Harry Aldrich

Anne Jackson: Mildred Aldrich

Christine Ebersole: Arlene Aldrich

Michael Murphy: Ed

A Penta Pictures production, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Director Ted Kotcheff. Producer Victor Drai. Executive producers Mario and Vittorio Cecchi Gori. Screenplay Robert Klane. Director of photography Larry Pizer. Editor Joan E. Chapman. Costumes Jay Hurley. Music Michel Colombier.

MPAA-rated PG-13.

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