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April 16, 2016

Thinner

by Franz Patrick


Thinner (1996)
★ / ★★★★

While driving home from a celebratory dinner, an overweight lawyer named Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) ran over an old gypsy woman by accident. Enraged that the case was so apparently fixed that Billy was allowed to walk away as if nothing had happened, the old woman’s son (Michael Constantine) walks up to Billy, brushes his cheek, and whispers the word “thinner.” Soon, the three-hundred-pound attorney begins to lose weight at an accelerated weight: fourteen pounds in seven days then over forty pounds just after two weeks. Although Billy eats ten thousand to twelve thousand calories per day, there seems to be no stopping his sudden weight loss.

Based on the novel by Stephen King, “Thinner” has the potential to really hone in and comment on the moral decay of a person in the form of horrific happenings that surround him, but instead settles on telling a freak-of-the-week story which runs out of steam about halfway through its already short running time. Although the protagonist is well-acted by Burke, the screenplay is severely malnourished in dimension and depth that it really is not all that interesting to sit through let alone think about afterward.

Burke is convincing in playing a man carrying extra weight. The initial scenes may be off-putting because the padding and the makeup are so obvious, but when these elements are taken away—reflecting Billy’s weight loss—there is a performance worth watching. For instance, because the shedding of the pounds happens so quickly, Burke makes the decision to hold onto Billy’s gait. That is, the character’s walk remains waddle-like, still sort of slow instead of brisk and straight. His body may have transformed but everything else has not changed.

The execution of the story is supremely elementary. Eventually, Billy begins to suspect that his wife (Elizabeth Franz) may be having an affair. Aside from one or two shots accompanied by a few words, this suspicion is never explored in either a dramatic or tension-filled manner. Instead, it comes off as flat, a mere tool to be used later on so that it may help to create a semblance of completion. Imagine the most forgettable episodes of the anthology television series “Goosebumbps.” These tend to follow a specific track and lays out all the clues within the first ten minutes. It is like that here, only the clues are laid out in about half an hour.

There is no character worth rooting for. Though both Billy and the gypsies have something to be angry about, Michael McDowell and Tom Holland’s screenplay fails to move beyond one camp trying to make the other miserable. It comes off so childish that I grew bored by the so-called conflict. In the middle of all the commotion, I started to question why the picture was not more fun. This is because the material, aside from its premise, is devoid of imagination.

Directed by Tom Holland, “Stephen King’s Thinner” is not camp enough to be amusing and not scary enough to be a full-fledged horror film. It tries to be entertaining, I guess, with all the bad makeup and overacting by the supporting players but such techniques are crutches of movies with a weak core. I may not have read the author’s novel but I would like to believe that it is more witty, ironic, and darkly comic than this dross.

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