While George Lucas was in the midst of his then-recent Young Indiana Jones series, he decided to try and put together a film based on the radio theater broadcasts of the 1930s and 40s. Basically, the film is based on a radio station in Chicago that is scheduled to launch its first broadcast, hoping to become the next big radio network. But when people start to get murdered during the broadcast, things become a little bit tense.
What’s surprising about this film is just how many peo…le in it are recognizable. The film’s main character, a writer named Roger (Brian Benben, Dream On) is busy trying to reconcile with his wife Peggy (Mary Stuart Masterson, Some Kind of Wonderful). The radio station’s owner, a man called “The General” (Ned Beatty, Cookie’s Fortune) is busy trying to impress his affiliates and the largest advertiser in the station, a guy named Bernie King (Brion James, Blade Runner). The large cast for the radio broadcast is composed of many big and small names, including comic legend George Burns (Oh God!), Corbin Bernsen (Major League), Christopher Lloyd (Taxi), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) and Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap).
The unfortunate part of the film for me was that these names (and more) decided to let their acting talents take a back seat in favor of deferring to the era of radio theater, so there’s quite a large bit of slapstick-ish behavior, rapid fire banter and era dialogue that starts off as nostalgic kitsch, but becomes so enamored with itself that it takes away from what could have been a fairly interesting story. Written by Willard Huyck (he of Howard the Duck infamy) and directed by Mel Smith (who played the albino in The Princess Bride), the movie definitely finds its roots in 1939, it just stayed too close to convention.
Ultimately while Radioland Murders is not a
Phantom Menace, it’s certainly not American Graffitti either. The performances are capable enough as the cast clearly has fun reciting the old terminology and slang, but it gets a little hackneyed after awhile, even at 95 minutes or so.
Radioland Murders comes to DVD shelves in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The film looks quite good actually, despite not being a very colorful picture, and the image looks pretty soft, much as it intended to be.
In a bit of a surprise, the film sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio track. It’s not bad, everything is reproduced well, but there weren’t enough surround effects for the rear speakers to be of much use. The film sounded clear as a bell, perhaps to remind people of a real radio broadcast, but other than that, there’s not too much here.
Just a trailer for Lucas’ Indiana Jones 4 movie. Sorry, was just checking to see if you were paying attention. The film’s trailer is here, and that’s it.
Radioland Murders is certainly not the worst thing that has come from Lucas’ mind over the last decade or so. In fact, the film isn’t horrible, but in its quest to recreate a radio broadcast and whodunit for two separate arenas, the viewer is left without any real concern as to what happens to the characters. A semi-enthusiastic rental recommendation for interested parties.
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