The Alarmist


             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
     it.

             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.



                                     Rating:        C
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.