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1/23/18

MODERN PROBLEMS - REVIEW


Released in 1981, Modern Problems is an off-beat comedy starring Chevy Chase as a loser air traffic controller who is dumped by his girlfriend then somehow gets covered in nuclear waste which leads to him acquiring telekinetic powers, for some reason.

Chevy Chase is a comedian who could easily elevate silly or potentially bland roles to something special. While his movie career has stumbled since the late 90's, probably at least partly due to him having a bad rep with his peers and being apparently difficult to work with, he remains one of the most reliable comedy actors out there. It's a shame, then, that Modern Problems is not a better film. Made when Chase was near the peak of his career, it not only failed to capture the actor's comedic talents but failed to tell a funny, or at least entertaining, story. The concept, while random, could have translated into a really fun movie: Chevy Chase has superpowers, he uses them in silly ways, goes too far, has to redeem himself, learns a life lesson, patches things up with his girlfriend, the end. On paper, this is a simple story to get right and yet, in director Ken Shapiro's hands, it feels extremely awkward and unpleasant. The first half hour of the film is surprisingly dull and is peppered with corny, cartoonish jokes that miss the mark and, although this is a recurring issue with this film, things still manage to go downhill from there.

Chase's character goes from boring sad sack to odious douchebag quick as he jealously makes a man's nose bleed in a restaurant, ruins various events just because and physically hurts others with a big smile on his face. This is the guy we're meant to side with: we're meant to laugh at his cruel antics, care about his love life, want him to get what he wants in the end. And yet he's so dislikable that, by the third act, you'll be wishing for him to go away. The film isn't shot particularly well but it's the writing that really drops the ball throughout: characters are introduced and never become useful, the pacing is criminally slow, the tone yo-yo's between goofy comedy, surreal rom-com and creepy horror way too often, the air traffic controller thing is pointless, the ending is not earned and the jokes are mostly either unfunny or completely misguided, sometimes both. It's very easy to imagine a good film with the same cast and the same concept, something akin to The Lonely Guy with a Bruce Almighty-type character arc that makes sense, and likeable characters. Unfortunately, this movie never lives up to its potentially amusing premise and wastes a perfectly good Chevy Chase, who looks like he's having a terrible time filming each scene.

Modern Problems is one of those comedies that sounds exactly like something you'd enjoy watching but ends up letting you down over and over again. It's not funny, charming or clever and it's altogether hugely disappointing.

A (nuclear) waste.

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