Cinema: Rushes: Aug. 31, 1981

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One can only hope that Sandra O'Connor does not see this movie before her confirmation hearings. If she does, she may decide to withdraw her name from consideration as the first female appointee to the Supreme Court. One could scarcely blame her, so dismal does this fantasy—based on a hit play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee—make life on the big bench seem. Jill Clayburgh plays the perky, conservative new lady in chambers; Walter Matthau is the bearish liberal Justice with whom she has a tastefully tentative comedy-romance that turns out to be neither very comic nor very romantic. Mostly they argue about things like pornography and corporate responsibility. These discussions are conducted at the high school civics-class level, and it must be said that Ronald Neame's direction suits them admirably, since it is at the film-school level.


What can you get for $25 million these days? If you're Producer Don Boyd and Director John Schlesinger, assembling a kook's tour of characters and situations for your episodic comedy about American life on wheels, you get: cute hookers, more bickering couples than a Bronx highrise, a town that paints itself pink, an elephant on water skis, and some funny car crashes. In a large, bland cast (Beau Bridges, William Devane, Teri Garr, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy), only Beverly D'Angelo stands out as an overripe woman who can't say no, and for whom "the International House of Pancakes is the one consistent thing in my life." The rest of this Freeway is like 107 minutes of bad road.


The squandering proceeds apace. In 1939 MGM spent $1.2 million to make The Wizard of Oz; in 1981 Orion Pictures has devoted $17 million to a modern farce about the hundreds of midgets and dwarfs who went to Hollywood to play the Oz Munchkins, and by their lewd shenanigans cut the town down to size. Rainbow's plot is serviceably convoluted, involving a Secret Service agent (Chevy Chase), a paranoid Graustarkian duke and his Sicilian assassin-in-waiting, a pair of Axis spies, 25 Japanese camera buffs, four dead dogs and 150 little people. (Make that 151: Carrie Fisher plays their den mother.) But Director Steve Rash's pacing is slack, the lighting is inappropriately murky, and eventually one tires of the endless string of tall stories and short-people jokes. Like Honky Tank Freeway, this movie is in desperate need of an ace farceur like Preston Sturges—and a niggardly accountant to ride herd on ballooning budgets.