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Unstrung Heroes

movie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Unstrung Heroes

Starring: Andie MacDowell, John Turturro
Director: Diane Keaton
Rated: PG
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: September 1995
Genres: Drama, Family


*Also starring: Michael Richards, Maury Chaykin, Nathan Watt, Kendra Krull, Joey Andrews, Celia Weston, Anne DeSalvo



Review by Steve Rhodes
1 star out of 4

UNSTRUNG HEROES is the second theatrical movie that Diane Keaton has directed. Her long association with the great director Woody Allen shows in the movie as does her work as a black and white photographer, but UNSTRUNG HEROES has the Keaton's unique cinematographic stamp on it. Unfortunately I did not like it for reasons I will get into later, but at least she was not afraid to take risks and have characters that were constantly on the fringe.

UNSTRUNG HEROES is the story of Steven Lidz (Nathan Watt) and his crazy family. Some of his family is seriously mentally ill whereas others are merely quirky. On a zaniness scale, the movie is off the chart. Steven's dad, Sid (John Turturro), is a scientist and inventor a la Doctor Emmett Brown in BACK TO THE FUTURE. He invents one bizarre homemade device after another without any visible interest in commercializing any of them.

In fact the major problem of the show is that it is not founded in reality. Craziness works best when it comes from a plausible base. I am a big fan of oddball characters in movies from HAROLD AND MAUDE to PULP FICTION, but they work because the characters were believable. Writers Elizabeth Barton and Richard LaGravenese craft characters whose only interest comes in the unbelievably ridiculous things they do. Moreover, although some lines are funny, most fall flat. They give Sid such unfunny lines as "Everything can be broken down to numbers. Science will be earth's salvation."

Steven's mother Selma (Andie MacDowell) is dying, but Sid tries to hide it from the Steven and his sister Sandy (Kendra Krull). When Steven finds out, he escapes the pain of seeing his mother die and goes to live with his mentally ill uncles, Uncle Danny (Michael Richards) and Uncle Arthur (Maury Chaykin). His uncles live in an apartment with old newspapers stacked to the ceiling so they can barely get around. Their closets are filled with balls of all sizes which they bounce off of each other's heads during meals. Uncle Arthur believes that Nazis are spying on him all of the time. He says that the slogan "I like Ike is a secret gentile code for I hate kikes." He runs into rooms shutting all of the windows because people in gray coats are chasing him. The two uncles grated on my nerves so much that I want to scream every time they were on the screen, which regrettably is a lot. The uncles tell Steven such wisdom as "There are only eight trustworthy people in the entire world. There were twelve, but four were assassinated."

For me the saving grace of the movie was the impressive acting by twelve year old Nathan Watt. His ability to look so forlorn and to deliver deep feelings without speaking was the only outstanding part of the movie. He was so good that I would not be surprised to see him get some supporting actor award nominations. Too bad he was in such a mess of a movie.

There is one other memorable aspect of Unstrung Heroes - the cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. The movie is set in the early 60s, and the colors made you believe that they shot it with the old over saturated film of that era. I found the sets by Garreth Stover depressing, but they were imaginative especially the outlandish furnishing of the Uncles' apartment.

John Turturro is one of those actors who suffers from terminal overacting unless the director keeps him in constant check. Here he goes overboard as usual. Andie MacDowell is an inconsistent actress. Sometimes, as in SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, GROUNDHOG DAY, and FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, she is terrific. In other movies, she stays on autopilot. Here she was essentially forgettable.

UNSTRUNG HEROES runs only 1:33, but I still wish Lisa Churgin had edited out the Uncles in their entirety. The movie is correctly rated PG. It would not harm anyone, but I can not imagine anyone under 10 having any interest in the movie. I found UNSTRUNG HEROES to be a big disappointment and a movie that grated on my nerves way too often so I can not recommend it. I award it * for Nathan Watt's performance.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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