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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: EDtv

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman
Director: Ron Howard
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Woody Harrelson, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Hurley, Adam Goldberg

Review by Walter Frith
1½ stars out of 4

'Ed TV' had me mildly interested for about the first half its running length. But after that, it made its point and then just kept going on and on before finding a trivial way to conclude itself. How appropriate that a film about television should have so many people from television's history in it. Woody Harrelson ('Cheers'), Ellen DeGeneres ('Ellen'), Rob Reiner ('All in the Family'), Jenna Elfman ('Dharma and Greg'), and Martin Landau ('Mission Impossible', 'Space: 1999'). Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel even got their start on the small screen, and directing it all, little Opie and Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard). The star of 'Ed TV' (Matthew McConaughey) saves the film from being a total failure just as he did with 1996's 'A Time to Kill' which also hung on by a thread every time he wasn't on screen. McConaughey is starting to fall into the same trap as George Clooney in so much as he is extremely talented but can't quite find the right film role after a few years on the big screen to really push him over the line into true stardom.

In 'Ed TV' McConaughey stars as Ed Pekurny, a 31 year-old video store clerk who gets selected by a failing network to be the star of its new show. A show without scripts, directors or focus. It's the brainchild of a programming executive (Ellen DeGeneres). And taking credit for it all is a shady and shark like fellow executive (Rob Reiner). It's entitled Ed TV and the concept is simple: an ordinary man's life will be put on television 24 hours a day as he goes about his usual business and every detail of his life will be for the general entertainment of the viewing public. Actually, Ed isn't on television when he sleeps but the cameras are there to greet him when he opens his eyes in the morning. Sound familiar? 'Ed TV' is, in many ways, the reverse of 'The Truman Show' where a man's life was on t.v. from the cradle into his 30's but the only difference is that he didn't know about it and Ed does.

Ed's family is quite a handful. His older brother Ray (Harrelson) believes he should have been chosen for the show and although the rest of the family is against the idea at first, Ray says: "He's 31 years old and works as a video store clerk. What's he going to do? Spend the rest of his life re-arranging "Ernest" movies?" Ed and Ray's mother and step dad (Sally Kirkland and Martin Landau) have a solid marriage at first but the new show brings out secrets that may threaten their relationship when Ed's long lost dad (Dennis Hopper) comes to visit. Ray's fiancé Shari (Jenna Elfman) eventually falls for Ed, complicating things even further and Ed wants to quit the show but the network won't let him out of his contract. He breaks up with Shari and the audience is dying to see him get it on with a hot model (Elizabeth Hurley). We constantly see people from all over America watching the show, injecting their own opinions about what should happen in Ed's life and the show's direction in many ways is determined by polls taken and the published results show up constantly in the newspaper USA Today. Ed rides the zamboni at hockey games and is cheered on by folks, has his image plastered on the side of city buses with a caption beside it promoting the show, has people following him on the streets wanting his autograph and there are plenty of in-jokes about television. Put that together with plenty of annoying product placements and advertisements and you REALLY have a movie about t.v.!

Gee, did I describe the film enough for you? My point in this case was to tell you more than I had to really, to illustrate that most of this happens in about the first hour to 75 minutes and then the film gets bogged down with reflection on the part of Ed as he looks back on the whole experience with regret and the film shifts gears from comedy to drama and can't decide what its real purpose is. The best performance in the film comes from Harrelson and Ganz and Mandel's script has its usual flubbering of jokes that are in bad taste, inventing new terms and combining some old ones for a few belly laughs but the film feels like a failed sales pitch where you think you may have the potential to buy a product you'll like, but you just can't quite see yourself paying for it.

The film does make some good points about the state of television in the 90's where trashy television pays off with enough people supporting it. A major news story came out at the end of 1998 citing that network television viewer ship was down a whopping 12% for the year, making it the biggest loser in media competition. When a professional wrestling program is currently the biggest show on cable, what does THAT say about the state of quality? Not a lot in my opinion and that's sort of what 'Ed TV' is like. It's staged, it's false, and it doesn't mean a whole lot except for what you already know about television. How many people want to lay down money for a big screen movie with a small screen message? I don't.

Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith

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