Radioland Murders
R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Jarrod Baker & Noor Razzak (3rd October 2006).
The Film

Part murder mystery, part screwball comedy, "Radioland Murders" is pretty much ineffective as either, despite featuring a range of appealing performances from an excellent cast.
Directed by British comedian Mel Smith (of "Alas, Smith & Jones" (1984) and "Not the Nine O'Clock News" (1979) fame) from a story by George Lucas (!), "Radioland Murders" is set in the late 1930s, as a new radio station (WBN) is about to make its premiere, under the watchful eye of the major corporate sponsor and the affiliates that are to carry the new station's programming.
The premiere is marred though by a series of murders, and the surviving staff scramble to find the killer while at the same time keeping the show on the air at all costs. All of this is presented in a broad, slapstick style. Think pratfalls. Lots and lots of pratfalls.
There's the kernel of a good movie in there somewhere it just seems like no-one bothered to find it. There's no intrinsic reason, on paper, why it shouldn't be at least okay Mel Smith is an excellent comedian, and showed, with "The Tall Guy" (1989), that he can be a fairly competent director, Bean (Rowan Akinson) notwithstanding. George Lucas has come up with some great stories. The cast, all in all, is outstanding with a back line of top-notch comedic talent, like Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, and Larry Miller.
The result, however, is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. Unevenly paced, confused and confusing, "Radioland Murders" is all the worse for the moments of comedic serendipity which demonstrate how good the film could have been possibly even with the same script, although the fact that 4 scriptwriters are credited may indicate part of the problem with this picture had it been in different hands. With so much comedic firepower at its disposal, along with all the resources of ILM and Lucasfilm, and a fairly novel premise, this could have been an excellent comedy.
Instead it fritters away that potential. Christopher Lloyd, for example, is wasted in a virtually dialogue-free and only sporadically funny role as the radio station's sound effects man. Better used is Michael McKean's band leader, but even he has relatively little to do in this film, while bland lead Mary Stuart Masterton and the only slightly better Brian Benben get the spotlight.
The first hour or so is especially confused Smith's attempt to keep the film moving at a rapid pace just serves to generate more confusion as it becomes harder and harder to understand what's going on. The second half of the film is only marginally better possibly because by this time many of the major characters have been killed off or arrested, so there's less to keep track of.
Well, the film so far, so negative. But surely there's something good to say about "Radioland Murders"? it does feature Bobcat Goldthwait. If you're a fan of his, perhaps from his sterling work with the "Police Academy" (1984-1994) franchise, perhaps you could consider his presence a silver lining.
If you're not a big enough Bobcat Goldthwait fan to relish a couple of brief appearances from this comedic legend, then there's little to recommend this film.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, this widescreen anamorphic image is better than expected, for a budget release this transfer is very good. Colors are vibrant and lush, blacks are deep although occasionally murky, shadow detail remains consistent. I found the overall image on the soft side but generally held up well considering the previous DVD release was non-anamorphic this newer edition is a step in the right direction.

Audio

Only a single English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is included and dialogue was clean and distortion free however for a 5.1 sound I found it on the inactive side. The majority of sound was directed to the front speakers and little attention was given to the back. Depth is unfortunately limited given the big band 30's style score, which deserves a decent crack at the entire 5.1 sound space.
Optional subtitles are also included in English for the hearing impaired only.

Extras

Universal have released this film completely bare or any substantial extras, the only thing on this disc is the film's original theatrical trailer.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: B+ Audio: C Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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