Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Late Show (1977)

          After making his name by co-writing Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and other pictures, Robert Benton graduated to directing with the admirable Western Bad Company (1972), then tackled another beloved Hollywood genre with his sophomore effort. An homage to classic detective pictures, The Late Show proceeds from a decent premise: What happens when an old-school gumshoe right out of a ’40s private-eye flick gets thrown together with a hippie chick so peace-and-love ’70s that they barely speak the same language? Right from the beginning of the film, however, the premise is undercut by Benton’s undisciplined script, which wobbles between comedy, drama, and suspense; furthermore, logic takes a beating as characters make profoundly stupid decisions, survive impossible predicaments, and walk away from crime scenes as if nothing happened. And while it’s a given that engrossing mystery films can sometimes surmount nonsensical narratives (see 1946’s classic but incomprehensible The Big Sleep), The Late Show isn’t anywhere near entertaining enough to merit sorting through its unnecessarily convoluted plot.
          In addition to logic problems and tonal inconsistency, the movie is so slow-moving that it’s nearly interminable for viewers who don’t fall in love with the leading characters. On the plus side, Honeymooners icon Art Carney delivers a terrific leading performance as a crusty old private dick—his character is a tip of the fedora to the tough-but-decent investigators once played by Humphrey Bogart and the like. However, Carney’s costar, Lily Tomlin, comes across as an airheaded flibbertigibbet so preoccupied with “vibes” that it’s as if she’s transmitting from another dimension; she barely stops talking during her scenes, and nothing she says is remotely interesting. This makes the many Carney-Tomlin scenes forced and tiresome, whereas Carneys fleeting bits with comedy pro Bill Macy have a spark the rest of the picture lacks. As a result of its many flaws, The Late Show is a well-intentioned but dreary oddity that doesn’t come close to hitting the stylistic sweet spot.
          It should be noted, however, that the preceding represents a minority opinion; Benton received an Oscar nomination for his script, and Tomlin got a Golden Globe nod for her performance. The Late Show seems to have far more admirers than detractors, so if any of the above intrigues you, by all means, dig in and, as the saying goes, your experience may differ. For my part, I enjoy nearly everyone involved in The Late Show and was therefore surprised to find their combined efforts so thoroughly uninteresting—the disparate elements of the picture just didnt cohere for me.

The Late Show: LAME

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

I agree completely with your final line. Couldn't even finish this one.