The writer-director team who gave us THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) first collaborated in 1993 on this deliberately obscure thriller, which didn't see a widespread release until after SUSPECTS' success.
The sleepy vale of Brewster is shaken up by the arrival of Whiley Pritcher (Ron Marquette), who kicks off his public access cable TV show with the question: "What's wrong with Brewster?"
With the town's oral history provided by Whiley's landlord, Bob Hodges (Burt Williams), Whiley dredges up grievances only to squash them. Rankling the populace, Whiley distracts the citizenry from their real problems while supporting the conservative line handed out by Mayor Breyer (Charles
Dating the town librarian, Rachel (Dina Brooks), Whiley ostensibly sympathizes with her sob story about her favorite teacher, Jeff Abernathy (Larry Maxwell), who has been fired by the school board. Opposed to the Mayor's policies, educator Abernathy has dug up damning evidence that Breyer has sold
Brewster down the river for personal profit.
Whiley's modus operandi turns lethal when he befriends, then vilifies and murders Abernathy in a hanging arranged to look like a suicide. Preserving Mayor Breyer's squeaky clean image, Whiley also kills Rachel so that no proof can surface that will open the eyes of the gullible villagers. With the
status quo spin securely in place, Whiley's work is done. Walking past shuttered establishments and bankrupt businesses, Whiley travels to his next site of despoilment.
As hard to see through as obsidian, PUBLIC ACCESS is one of those visually adroit think pieces that irritates the audience with overweening glibness. (Forget the time-splintering flashbacks and flashforwards. Why didn't the filmmakers do something about the stasis in the screenplay?)
What exactly does Whiley represent? Is he a mythical anti-humanist figure like the Keyzer Soze character in THE USUAL SUSPECTS, or just a small-town version of Rush Limbaugh, warming up for TV stardom? Since he partakes of no financial gain, can we assume that Whiley just gets his kicks ensuring
fat cats stay in office? Wouldn't the screenplay have been better off delving into Whiley's psychotic dislike of Norman Rockwell's America? As it stands, liberals will feel like the butt of a politically incorrect joke, and conservatives will refuse to recognize Whiley as a kindred spirit. The
apolitical will be put off by the director's arty footwork in the service of shadow-satire.
The soulless PUBLIC ACCESS suggests that economic devastation is the price "yokels" pay for their sheep-like behavior. Proud of their own stylistic flourishes, the makers of this bleak film don't realize that there are worse things than the blind faith of middle-class average Joes--for example,
the artistic smugness of a smart-alecky, blackhearted thriller. (Extreme profanity, violence, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: The writer-director team who gave us THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995) first collaborated in 1993 on this deliberately obscure thriller, which didn't see a widespread release until after SUSPECTS' success. The sleepy vale of Brewster is shaken up by the arrival o… (more)