Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Roger Ebert's infamous review for 1994's NORTH is probably better known than the film itself. It is certainly more enjoyable. The late film critic holds nothing back as he absolutely barbecues Rob Reiner's infamous comedic misfire, finally stating multiple times that he "hated hated....." it.  He devotes an entire paragraph to that end.  But is it so bad as to inspire an erudite writer to throw down such anger?

There are some movies upon which I would unload this sort of vitriol.  I hated MULEFEATHERS, THE BELIEVERS, PAY IT FORWARD, and several others, but even in the worst of them there is at least a tiny sliver of a band of worthiness, something of value, though in my opinion not enough to make them worth watching. Ebert found not one iota of such in NORTH, which I agree is a pretty bad film but far from the worst I've seen.

In a nutshell: North (Elijah Wood) is an overachieving young man who is consistently ignored by his neurotic father and mother (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis Dreyfus) and decides, quite publicly, to divorce himself from them and scour the world to find more suitable guardians. Each new set of parents initially seems just fine, until something unfortunate is revealed about them. The Texans (Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire) are looking to replace their deceased son. The Hawaiians (Keone Young and Lauren Tom) plan to use North's image on billboards to sell land in their state. The Eskimos (Graham Greene and Kathy Bates, along with Abe Vigoda) have unacceptable customs.  Another family (Faith Ford, John Ritter, and a young Scarlett Johansson) is too perfect.  There is even a stop in Amish country (with WITNESS co-stars Alexander Godunov and Kelly McGillis, ha ha).  In each locale Bruce Willis shows up, playing everything from a department store Easter Bunny to a Fed-Ex driver to offer the poor boy some advice.  This is some cast.

NORTH had great potential. Alan Zweibel based the screenplay on his own novel and has some good ideas and the premise is workable.  I don't know about the book, but this movie is almost impressive in how skillful in it is in botching every single scene, every moment which could have been mined for both comedy and pathos.  Reiner at times tries for the throwback Jewish humor of those dark '70s comedies like FIRE SALE (in which he appeared).  The director of that film, Alan Arkin, has a cameo as a judge in an agonizingly unfunny courtroom scene that makes my point.  Castle Rock produced Seinfeld and with NORTH you can see some of the same method, right down to the casting of Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus, who are uncharacteristically dull.  At one point, North has to escape the bullets of a hit man, another questionable choice for humor.

My suggestion is to skip the movie and just read Ebert's review.  Pretend Reiner never made it.  You might want to just pretend the director stopped making movies altogether in the mid-90s while you're at it....
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