"Whale Music" offers Maury Chaykin a great part as a legendary rock star of the '60s, a recluse since he became traumatized by the death of his brother and partner nine years earlier.
Holed up in a vast, run-down Beaux Arts seaside mansion, Chaykin's Desmond Howl composes music designed to attract whales on what he claims is the "most advanced keyboard system in the world." When he's not composing, he takes swims in his fetid swimming pool with imaginary whales. Shattered, monumentally self-absorbed and self-indulgent, Desmond has an increasingly tentative grasp upon reality.
A hefty whale of a man himself, Chaykin is wonderful as this sweet yet self-destructive man. Unfortunately, "Whale Music" is draggy, long-winded, sentimental and predictable, an opportunity missed to make a trenchant, witty comment on the fate of '60s superstars. Richard J. Lewis is a fine director of actors, but his style is in the relentlessly prosaic tradition of the English-speaking Canadian cinema. Perhaps inherently better suited to stage than screen, Desmond's story cries out for the wisdom, cool, humor and vitality of a Robert Altman.
As it so often happens in movies with such recluses, Desmond's moldy refuge is breached by a pretty young woman, Carrie (Cyndy Preston), who has as troubled a history as he has. Having found safe haven, however, she sets about straightening out Desmond and his home. As a housekeeper she's a miracle worker, having single-handedly spiffed up the place--and the pool--in a flash, when realistically it would take a large, professional cleaning crew to do the job.
The relationship between the two develops as they discover they're soul mates, but you just know that Carrie inadvertently will provoke a crisis to be resolved by the conclusion. Chaykin and Preston, a capable actor in her own right, do make this evolving love story credible and touching, even if they can't save it from triteness.
Lewis and Paul Quarrington adapted the film from Quarrington's novel, which is said to be based loosely on his own experiences as a rock musician. Be that as it may, the pretty clear inspiration for the overweight Desmond and the handsome dead brother who haunts him would seem to be Brian and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.
Indeed, along with Chaykin and the Rheostatics' eerie, beguiling score, the best thing that "Whale Music" has going for it is the timeliness of its release, upon the heels of "Unstrung Heroes" and "Devil in a Blue Dress," in which Chaykin appears, and the documentary "Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times."
\o7 * Unrated. Times guidelines: The film has some strong language, but contains nothing inappropriate for older children.\f7
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Maury Chaykin: Desmond Howl
Cyndy Preston: Carrie
Jennifer Howl: Fay Ginzburg-Howl
Paul Gross: Daniel Howl
A Seventh Art release of an Alliance presentation. Director Richard J. Lewis. Producers Raymond Massey, Steven DeNure. Executive producers Robert Lantos, David Hakuna. Screenplay by Paul Quarrington, Lewis; from Quarrington's novel. Cinematographer Vic Sarin. Editor Richard Martin. Costumes Toni Burroughs-Rutter. Music Rheostatics. Production designer Rex Raglan. Art director Charles Leitrants. Set decorator Garth Flemming. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
\o7 * Exclusively at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd. St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741.\f7