In New York circles, Keith Reddin is known as both a talented actor
and playwright. His stage plays have a tendency to combine elements of
comedy and tragedy that not only entertain but make theatergoers stop and
consider various perspectives. The first of his plays to be filmed was
BIG TIME, which aired in 1989 on PBS' now defunct series "American
Playhouse". Neophyte screenwriter-director Evan Dunsky has adapted
Reddin's Life During Wartime as the feature film THE ALARMIST.
While there's much to admire in this version, ultimately that which works
on stage cannot always be successfully translated to the screen.
The plot veers between black comedy, romance and tragedy with the
various strands never fully coming together, but in and of themselves,
they provide much amusement.
The complicated premise begins with a security systems salesman
Tommy Hudler (David Arquette) being trained by the company's owner
Heinreich Grigoris (Stanley Tucci). The audience watches as Grigoris
convinces a seemingly gullible woman (Mary McCormack) that she
must purchase a new home security system. Hudler is then sent out
in the field and we see him encounter an elderly couple who have no
need of his wares because the husband has a stockpile of weapons
in his home. Hudler finally makes a sales to Gale an attractive widow
(Kate Capshaw) with an overgrown and slightly slow teenage son
(Ryan Reynolds). Tommy and the widow are soon engaging in an affair
that provides much of the film's comic moments, like when her son
arrives at an inopportune moment and when Tommy takes Gale to meet
his disbelieving parents (Lewis Arquette and Michael Learned).
All seems to be going well for Tommy — he's a natural-born
salesman, business seems to be booming and his love life is in order.
Of course, things turn a bit sour. He stops being able to make sales
and his boss tips him to some of the more unsavory aspects of the
business. Grigoris is not above tweaking his clients — by attempting
petty break-ins in order for them to either purchase a system or upgrade
to a more expensive one. When an unexpected murder occurs, Tommy
begins to suspect that Grigoris and his henchwoman might be behind
And that's where the story falls apart completely. The last third of
the film devolves into the absurd which in the theater probably played
fine but on film the sequences fall a little flat. The tentatively happy
ending also seems a bit forced.
What keeps the film from being an all-out disappointment are
the performances. David Arquette is a handsome young actor with a
quirky, fidgety charm that can either seem icky or appropriate, as in
the SCREAM movies). Here all his oddball traits come together in a
believable fashion. His Tommy is a callow youth who slowly grows up
as he falls in love and becomes a success and Arquette offers a winning
turn. Matching him is Stanley Tucci, who is one of America's best
character actors. As the slightly sinister, slightly cheesy head of
the company, Tucci delivers a layered portrayal. Also of particular
note are Mary McCormack as Tucci's right-hand who also harbors
unrequited feelings for Arquette, Kate Capshaw, who hasn't been
this relaxed on screen in a long time and Michael Learned as
Arquette's confused mother. Ma Walton has developed a withering
glare and Learned nearly purloins every one of her few scenes. A
special mention goes to Ryan Reynolds as Capshaw's lumbering son.
Here he get to display his prowess as an adept comedian, delivering
a very funny monologue about his sexual encounters. Writer-director
Dunsky show promise but the film's pacing is slightly off and there
is an inconsistency to the whole proceeding that undermines the
overall effect. If the film had been pitched at one level and not
been played in such widely divergent manners, it would have helped.
THE ALARMIST, unfortunately, does not add up to the sum of its parts.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.