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Movie Review

'Homage' Brings Fame Down to Earth

September 20, 1996|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark Medoff's play "The Homage That Follows" makes an awkward transposition to the screen as "Homage," but it does hold attention because Medoff has created three major roles and two key supporting parts that have been cast with highly accomplished actors.

Perhaps best known for "Children of a Lesser God" on both stage and screen, Medoff needed to polish his script further. "Homage" is too long, too repetitive, and too much of its dialogue is too literary for the screen. Also, "Homage" was perhaps too ambitious a first feature for AFI alumnus Ross Kagan Marks, who is much stronger with actors than images and cinematic structure.

Frank Whaley stars as Archie, a nerdy mathematical genius with a doctorate, who convinces Blythe Danner's Katherine Samuel to hire him as a worker on her small Las Cruces, N.M., ranch. A widowed intellectual--and burned-out high school teacher--Katherine is wary of the intense Archie, but she's lonely and vulnerable to the prospect of intelligent conversation. Trust and friendship between the two begin to flower when Katherine's daughter Lucy (Sheryl Lee) arrives for a visit. Archie literally goes berserk upon realizing that Lucy is in fact the star of a mindless, hugely successful TV series.

Desperate for attention, Archie fixates on Lucy, who has come to try to pull herself together, having kicked a drug habit but still drinking too much. While Archie bombards her with hastily written movie scripts and coming on to her with unwanted attentions, Katherine is unrelenting in her disapproval of her daughter selling out to Hollywood. Yet as this tricky trio thrashes about, a reconciliation between mother and daughter commences to evolve, which leaves the needy Archie feeling pretty much out in the cold.

These three actors illuminate brilliantly each and every corner of their very complex characters, but Whaley has been directed to go over the top from the start, which doesn't leave him anywhere to go with Archie and has the effect of making it seem incredible that Katherine wouldn't see potential danger in Archie's obvious instability.

Had Whaley been able to underplay Archie, that would have dovetailed nicely with Katherine's self-deluding, schoolmarmish conviction that she can handle him. In somewhat smaller roles, Bruce Davison, as a disillusioned, opportunistic local lawyer, and Danny Nucci, as a cop who had had a thwarted high school romance with Lucy, are excellent.

"Homage" makes its points about the cult of celebrity unobtrusively. That the film is framed by media interviews becomes a commentary on how even the most intelligent people in the grimmest of moments can't resist unburdening themselves on TV or for magazines like People. "Homage" has impact, but it might have had considerably more had it been less clumsy.

* MPAA rating: R, for brief strong sexuality, language and an act of violence. Times guidelines: Beyond the rating description the film is too intense and complicated for children, even if accompanied by an adult.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

'Homage'

Blythe Danner: Katherine Samuel

Frank Whaley: Archie Landrum

Sheryl Lee: Lucy Samuel

Bruce Davison: Joseph Smith

Danny Nucci: Gilbert

An Arrow Release of a Skyline Entertainment production. Director Ross Kagan Marks. Producers Elan Sassoon, Mark Medoff. Executive producer Marks. Screenplay by Medoff; from his play "The Homage That Follows." Cinematographer Tom Richmond. Editor Kevin Tent. Music W.G. Snuffy Walden. Production designer Amy Ancona. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

* Exclusively at the Grande 4-Plex through Thursday, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown Los Angeles, (213) 617-0268.

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