Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.
Release Date: January 29th, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Joe Dante Actors: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub, Kellie Martin, Lucinda Jenney, Robert Picardo
et in the early 1960s – with Kennedy in office, air raid drills frequenting schools, and the Cuban Missile Crisis looming on the horizon – Gene Loomis (Simon Fenton) and his younger brother Dennis (Jesse Lee) have been forced to move again due to their father’s new blockade ship assignment, originated at an army base in Key West, Florida. Meanwhile, movie producer Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) takes advantage of the public paranoia to market his new monster flick “Mant!” about a man mutated with an ant thanks to atomic bomb radiation that “only screams can describe” – or so insists the tagline for the black-and-white shocker. The film-within-a-film stars Ruth Corday (Cathy Moriarty), a sardonic, irritated woman who is tired of playing the leading lady in Woolsey’s schlock, but can’t bring herself to leave him.
Gene decides to woo Sandra (Lisa Jakub), a wise-beyond-her-years, forward-thinking girl, while his new friend Stanley (Omri Katz) pines over blonde Sherry (Kellie Martin), a teen who thinks she’s mature, since she’s easily influenced by rebellious, leather jacket-wearing, older ex-boyfriend Harvey Starkweather (James Villemaire). As the CDE (Citizens for Decent Entertainment) tries to boycott the showing of Woolsey’s thriller, the entertainer hires several local children to assist with the splashy premiere. All the teens in the town end up at the screening, where monster movie mayhem, an overzealous producer, and a neurotic theater owner’s sporadic decisions culminate in disasters of the unplanned kind.
Goodman isn’t a typical leading man, but he does well at the head of a cast of youngsters who aren’t annoying and surprisingly not scripted with every stereotype and cliché for high school kids. His character is convincing as a take on William Castle, who directed such horror films as “I Saw What You Did,” “13 Ghosts,” “The Tingler,” and “House on Haunted Hill,” and is notable for his ominous silhouette in a director’s chair puffing on a cigarette (akin to Hitchcock’s famous outline). Rather than concerning himself with quieting the local hysteria, Woolsey decides to rig his theater with electric shock devices underneath the seats; though he believes monster movies should have a villain that can be defeated at the climax to effectively calm viewers, he also knows that it takes more and more to truly scare people – so resorting to creatively manipulative tactics to supplement the visual frights is the logical next step. Curiously, it’s still a far reach from what horror films have currently evolved into with bloodthirsty imagery only.
“Matinee” raises questions about moral decency in films, as well as the notion of allowing children to see questionable materials and letting them make their own decisions – which could turn them into delinquents. First Amendment rights, role models, negative influences, and “harmless” movie magic are examined with a light, flippant touch that fails to evoke genuine emotions, vocal laughs, or suspense. Much of the picture is also designed strictly for avid ‘50s/’60s sci-fi/horror enthusiasts instead of broader comedy fans, with its satirization of real filmmakers and political events unlikely to engross general audiences.
Interestingly, juxtaposing a monster movie with the Cuban Missile Crisis – similar to Them! (1954), which played off nuclear fears of that decade – is perhaps too deep for this screenplay, which is executed without passion, with faulty pacing, and predicaments that are too dull even for a family-friendly movie. The “Mant!” footage, however, comprises some of the best bits, cleverly utilizing regular puns, tributes to the actors/studios/fictional characters of such projects, and spoofs of comparably low-budget, special effects-laden B-movies. But strangest of all is the paralleling of current affairs in the real world of the ‘60s, considering that “Matinee” is being marketed to viewers of 1993.
– Mike Massie