"Ed and His Dead Mother" (at the Sunset 5), the darkest of dark comedies, boasts a wonderfully original script by Chuck Hughes and a well-nigh perfect cast but is sadly done in by Jonathan Wacks' flat, uninspired direction.
The result is a textbook example of how getting good performances is but half the director's job, because this way off-the-wall project didn't have a prayer without direction that's distinctly personal, stylish, daring and, at the very least, rhythmic. Unfortunately, Wacks, best known for the amusing but overrated and rambling "Powwow Highway," doesn't bring any of those qualities into the picture.
The opening is promising, a framing sequence shot in black-and-white, in which a woebegone young man, Ed (Steve Buscemi) is on trial for having decapitated his mother (the ever-formidable Miriam Margolyes, employing a flawless Middle American accent).
It seems that Ed was genuinely devoted to his mother, a longtime single parent, who has died leaving him the small-town Iowa family hardware store and a nice old home, which he shares with his randy uncle (Ned Beatty), currently caught up in training his telescope on a curvaceous and uninhibited new neighbor (Sam Jenkins--that's Ms. Jenkins).
A year later, Ed is still mourning his mother's passing and is therefore singularly well-primed for slick salesman John Glover's pitch to bring his mother back to life for a comparatively small fee. Glover delivers the goods, amazingly enough, but of course some costly hitches arise. The big trouble is that Ed's resuscitated mother is not quite the woman she was in a number of increasingly bizarre ways.
You have to wonder about our wistful hero's name--Ed as in Oedipal Complex perhaps?--but not for long because the film unfolds in such a wan, mechanical fashion. What a shame, for Buscemi, Margolyes, Glover and Beatty really are up to every outrageous twist and turn of the plot. Hughes' script, which reportedly circulated around town for five years, deserved better. "Ed and His Dead Mother" is appropriately rated PG-13 for sensuality, comic horror action and language.
'Ed and His Dead Mother'
Steve Buscemi: Ed Chilton Miriam Margolyes: Mother Ned Beatty: Uncle Benny John Glover: A.J. Pattle Sam Jenkins: Storm Reynolds
An ITC Entertainment Group presentation. Director Jonathan Wacks. Producer Wm. Christopher Gorog. Screenplay by Chuck Hughes. Cinematographer Francis Kenny. Music Mason Daring. Production design Eve Cauley. Special effects K.N.B. EFX Group. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
MPAA-rated PG-13 (for sensuality, comic horror action and language).