Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna, Lucinda Jenney, Michael Constantine, Kari Wuhrer, Bethany Joy Lenz, Time Winters, Howard Erskine, Terrence Garmey, Randy Jurgensen, Jeff Ware, Antonette Schwartzberg, Terence Kava, Adriana Delphine, Ruth Miller
Written by: Tom Holland, Michael McDowell, based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Tom Holland
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence and gore, language and sexuality
Running Time: 92
Date: 10/25/1996

Thinner (1996)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Trimming the Fat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The original poster for Thinner, which was based on the 1984 Stephen King/Richard Bachman novel, featured the lead character turned into a horrified-looking skeleton face. The image practically induces panic all by itself. That was in the tradition of the great old exploitation movies, wherein the advertising was far more titillating and dangerous than the movies themselves. Alas, Thinner itself isn't too horrifying and is only partly interesting.

The director is Tom Holland, a near cult-favorite whose movies include the original Fright Night (1985) and the original "Chucky" movie Child's Play (1988), but also the Whoopi Goldberg comedy Fatal Beauty (1987) and the thriller The Temp (1992). (Otherwise, he has mostly worked in television.) Thinner is another one that comes close but doesn't quite make it. It starts on the wrong foot as our hero, lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) wanders into the frame wearing one of those big fat suits that were popular in movies for about ten years. This is nobody's fault; they did the best they could at the time, but the effect takes you right out of the movie.

And indeed Thinner continues in a kind of cartoony vein, almost making fun of itself as it goes along, but not exactly getting any laughs. Billy, while receiving some oral -- ahem -- attention from his wife (Lucinda Jenney) in the car, crashes into an old gypsy woman and kills her. He receives a slap on the wrist in court, but an old gypsy man gives him, and two of his colleagues, a curse. At first this curse is great. He starts shedding some of his 300 pounds, all the while eating whatever he wants. But when the weight loss continues, and Billy starts to figure out what's happening to him, he goes on a quest to get the curse lifted before he wastes away.

The most unusual element of the story is the gangster Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna), whom Billy helped out of a tough legal jam. Richie brings the force of the Italian mafia against the mystical might of the gypsy tribe, in a conclusion that should have been more wonderfully outlandish than it actually plays. The entire time, Thinner feels as if it had ambitions for a bigger budget and tried to make do with a smaller one, without adjusting the script. And, of course, Billy never makes it to the freakish, skeletal face from the poster. But, on the plus side, Kari Wuhrer is here at her very sexiest, playing an impossibly carnal gypsy woman. She could curse me any old time!

Though this one is still available on an older DVD, Olive Films has given it the new Blu-ray treatment in one of their high-quality, no-frills releases. (Note: For three excellent entries in the "gypsy curse" subgenre, try George Waggner's The Wolf Man, Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon and Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell.)
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