September 7, 2006

DVD Review: Radioland Murders

Radioland Murders is a slapstick murder mystery set during the launch of a new live radio network in 1939. The entire movie takes place over the course of a single night. The show starts, people die, people run around, killer is revealed, the movie ends, and I can go on with my life. Sadly, the movie is overly long and lacks heart.

I couldn't help but have flashbacks to the recent A Prairie Home Companion while I watched this movie. If I hadn't seen that, I may have been more inclined to like this movie, but that wasn't the case. Where Companion was a sweet and humorous love song to live variety radio, Radioland Murders is a broad stroke at a bygone era that fails to capture anything except the structure of the age.

If there is one thing that the movie succeeds at doing, it is the structure and frenetic flurry of activity that must have accompanied putting on a continuous feed of live entertainment. Unfortunately, throughout the activity, the characters are mere charicatures and never really take flight, yet always seem to be in flight. All action and no heart, which is a shame, because this could have been a fun romp.

The setting is the new WBN studio, the hopeful network is looking forward to a big night. Potential affiliates are in the house, and in their hands the future of Radioland is held. So, the entire crew is working hard in preparation for the big night, then the head honcho comes in and throws out most of their scripts, throwing everyone into a frenzy. This kicks off the fast pace, as the writers work on writing new scripts as the show goes live. Then a mysterious voice booms through the feed with a riddle, following that the first victim dies. This repeats itself throughout the evening, while the head writer, Roger (Brian Benben), constantly finds himself in the vicinity of the recently deceased, making him the logical suspect.

You know, there is a certain amount of respect I have for the execution of the plot. Director Mel Smith does a fine job of keeping the constant motion moving in a forward direction. There are some rather funny gags strewn throughout which are sure to please, as is the small part played by Bobcat Goldthwait. The issue lies with the story from George Lucas and the script from Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz and Jeff Reno & Ron Osborn. They juggle the characters decently enough, but there is no reason to really care about any of them, and none of them even seem like actual people, more like plot devices than anything else.

The biggest problem, more than anything else, is the length. It clocks in at 108 minutes, including credits, but it feels more like 2 and a half hours. It just keeps going and going, and when you think that the climax is approaching, you still have a half an hour to go. It turns from a comical slapstick farce into an endurance test.

Video. Not very good. It does not appear that much was done after the transfer. The colors are all muted and the image is very noisy. This would have looked great if they cleaned it up, the colors would have been nice if they were made to pop.

Audio. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix sounds pretty good, but nothing spectacular.

Extras. Nothing, the disk is bare, save for the movie.

Bottomline. Perhaps I had high expectations, but this movie did not satisfy, outside of the superficial farcical nature. All I would have liked was a film that had a little heart to go along with it, perhaps a reason to care about the characters. I say pass on this and see A Prairie Home Companion.

Mildly Recommended.
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