★★★★ / ★★★★
“Half man, half ant—all terror!” is the tagline of Lawrence Woolsey’s (John Goodman) new monster film, “Mant!,” strategically released on a weekend when fear is on an all-time high in the Key West, less than hundred miles from Cuba where Soviet missiles threaten nuclear abyss. Gene (Simon Fenton) and his younger brother Dennis (Jesse Lee Soffer) are big horror movie fans and they have made the decision to see next week’s feature. Word has it that it is unlike any other monster flick that came before. And although “Mant!” has not yet been released, there is already protesting outside the movie theater.
Based on the screenplay by Charles S. Haas and directed by Joe Dante, “Matinee” offers a real good time, perfect for anyone who loves the movies. It is funny, entertaining, creative, and offers surprises when one least expects it.
There is an innocence about the film, just like the monster movies in the ‘50s. There is a sweetness between the young characters, from the way Gene teases his little brother to the manner in which Gene treats a potential girlfriend (Lisa Jakub) who is unlike anybody else at school. Particularly fresh is the latter. There is no scene where a boy is depicted to be grossed out by girls, vice-versa. Credit to the screenplay for not being afraid to treat kids and teenagers like they have a heart and a brain.
Goodman is at the centerpiece, playing a film producer who is broke. Mr. Woolsey’s many gimmicks to sell the film are riotously amusing, from the way he inspires people who work at the movie theater to the vibrating seats he installs right before moviegoers buy their tickets. There is even a consent form required to be signed by the audience because kids in other cities have supposedly had heart attacks during “Mant!” showings. The look on Dennis’ face reminds us of that tickle we felt in our stomach back when we were children and our little or brother or sister believes just about anything he or she is told.
We get to see a good portion of “Mant!” In a way, we become a part of the audience. They are shown to be having a great time and we get to see why. The black-and-white movie is silly, cheesy, and ridiculous but there is something about it—in terms of visuals, music, and energy—that we cannot help but look away. Though we get to see only several scenes of the monster film, I thought it was actually something I would be interested in watching from beginning to end.
Its weakness is a subplot involving Gene’s classmate, Stan (Omri Katz), and a troublemaker (James Villemaire) who happens to be a poet. Both like the same girl and so the latter threatens the former to back off. Unlike Gene and the girl he likes, this triangle is a tired regurgitation of what we already expect. It might have been better if this subplot had been excised to make room for the real fears of Gene and his family because the head of their household is on a blockade ship by Cuba. Maybe the brothers go to the movies to escape having to think about the possibility that their father might not come back.
“Matinee” offers nostalgia but does not rest on it. It has an active imagination and so we are engaged just about every step of the way. There are jokes on the foreground to be sure but take a second to look in the background once in a while. The film deserves to be seen more than once not for the sake of understanding it completely but to capture the little golden nuggets one might miss the first time around.