Can absurdist comedy have a heart? Should it? That question is posed by FOLKS!, a very black comedy from screenwriter Robert Klane, about a deranged senior citizen who turns his son's life into a living hell. Jon Aldrich (Tom Selleck) is the laid-back Chicago Stock Exchange wheeler-dealer with a beautiful wife, Audry (Wendy Crewson), two cute kids, a dog...read more
Can absurdist comedy have a heart? Should it? That question is posed by FOLKS!, a very black comedy from screenwriter Robert Klane, about a deranged senior citizen who turns his son's life into a living hell.
Jon Aldrich (Tom Selleck) is the laid-back Chicago Stock Exchange wheeler-dealer with a beautiful wife, Audry (Wendy Crewson), two cute kids, a dog and a nice apartment, whose life is about to go completely down the toilet. It all starts unassumingly enough when he gets a call that his mother,
Mildred (Anne Jackson), needs a minor operation. It seems that his father, Harry (Don Ameche), can't be found, so Jon will need to sign the consent form. Arriving there, he finds his mother lucid and in good spirits. But he also finds that his father is in an advanced state of senile dementia.
Despite Jon's best efforts, his father manages to destroy half the trailer park where he lives before burning down his own trailer.
Meanwhile, the FBI closes down Jon's company in Chicago as part of a sting investigation and freezes Jon's assets, leaving him penniless and unable to earn a living. Nevertheless, Jon brings his parents back to Chicago to live with his family, where the disasters escalate. Before it's over, Jon
will lose his wife, kids and apartment, along with various parts of his body, from a piece of his ear to a testicle, before yielding to his father's one lucid suggestion--that Jon end his misery by getting rid of them in an "accident." Driven to desperation, Jon decides to comply. However, the
last-minute discovery of a valuable stock certificate held by Jon's father prevents euthanasia and puts Jon's family and life back together.
Even if Tom Selleck has yet to break through to big-screen stardom, he can hardly be accused of picking bland, safe star vehicles to further his career. FOLKS! embodies more ugly truths about American life than most American movies are comfortable with. At the same time, it tries to soften its
impact with big-scale comic destruction and a wish-fulfillment ending. But realism and fantasy make an uncomfortable mix, cancelling each other out and making FOLKS! neither fish nor fowl, neither dark gallows farce nor sunny feelgood froth.
For two-thirds of the film, it's hard to decide whether to laugh at or be appalled by some truly amazing stuntwork and big-scale buffoonery when each scene ends with Selleck's character in the hospital, with yet another body part removed and another piece of his sanity chipped away. At the end of
the second act, Selleck sits, catatonic, in his empty apartment (his furniture removed by creditors). What brings him back to life is his decision to carry out his parents' wish to murder them.
For the final third, we don't know whether to laugh at or be appalled by Selleck's attempts to murder a couple of old people by such methods as pushing them onto the highway in a gas-drenched Ford Pinto. FOLKS! kicks into its standard comedy resolution when Selleck, finding he just hasn't the
heart--or lack of it--to kill his parents, leaves it to his greedy sister, Arlene (Christine Ebersole), to do the deed, leading to a sensational, cliffhanger ending, in which the hapless parents are put into a plane rigged to crash with Selleck hanging onto the wing.
The points are sharply made that today's yuppies will have some hard decisions to make as increasingly sophisticated medical technology keeps their parents alive longer than ever and, the most basic American truth of all, that money changes everything. But, despite hitting close to home, FOLKS!
finally has more moral baggage than it can comfortably carry. Its social truths deflate its comedy value while its comedy element prevents it from getting any kind of a grip on the serious issues it raises.
As he has in the past, Robert Klane (WHERE'S POPPA?) demonstrates that his reach exceeds his grasp when it comes to writing a mixture of sentiment and satire. And, despite the return of Ted Kotcheff, who directed Klane's recent hit, WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S, the results manage to feel simultaneously
provocative, stale and predictable as it becomes apparent that FOLKS!, having bitten off more than it can chew, will revert to mediocrity by its fadeout.
Neither particularly funny nor particularly moving, FOLKS! tries hard, but it only winds up proving that being different doesn't necessarily mean being better. (Violence, adult situations.)
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