At his best, Alan Arkin is a one-of-a-kind actor who blends humor, intelligence, and sensitivity into vibrant performances. At his worst, he’s a screamer whose characterizations are abrasive in the extreme. Unfortunately, Fire Sale—the second theatrical feature Arkin directed—plays to his worst instincts on every level. Arkin’s acting in the lead role is loud and whiny, he lets other actors deliver numbingly overwrought performances, the film’s jokes are insultingly stupid, and every character is so unpleasant that even at 88 minutes (including a lengthy animated title sequence) the movie goes on way too long. One of those “madcap” comedies about a bunch of people whose insane behavior collides in an allegedly humorous fashion, Fire Sale stars Arkin and Rob Reiner as the sons of an aging Jewish retailer (Vincent Gardenia). Arkin is a ne’er-do-well high school basketball coach, and Reiner is the heir apparent of the family’s foundering department store. Various subplots involve Arkin’s offensive scheme to “adopt” a black teenager who can serve as a ringer for his basketball team, Reiner’s plan to burn down the family business for an insurance settlement, and crazy uncle Sid Caesar’s escape from a mental institution to conduct a military mission because he thinks it’s still World War II. Despite the presence of so many comedy pros, Fire Sale somehow manages to be completely obnoxious and unrelentingly boring at the same time. Thanks to competent technical execution, it’s not the worst comedy of the ’70s by a long shot, but it’s still truly unwatchable.
Fire Sale: SQUARE