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IN SHORT: Go 'cuz Tucci's name is on it. Stay 'cuz it's deliriously clever.
For two and a half years back in the mid-1970s playwright Keith Reddin was a founding member, and principal writer, of a radio comedy sketch group called Perverts on Parade, whose weekly half hour aired every Saturday on WNUR, the radio station at Northwestern University. Cranky was a member of that group, principally handling the sound effects and radio recording, and every once in a while voicing a bit part. That bit of historical triva had nothing to do with the reason why Cranky attended a screening of The Alarmist, which was based solely on the presence of Stanley Tucci in the cast. Reddin's name was a pleasant surprise, but I haven't talked to the man in twenty years. Sometimes your history comes up and bites you full on the patootie.
Our ripoffs of Monty Python aside, the stuff Reddin wrote back then offered, in retrospect, a good preview of his wonky take on the ordinary. Twenty years later, Cranky is still a sucker for the twisted comedic turns that fill this flick, based on Reddin's play "Life During Wartime." Ultimately, this tale of an naive home security salesman becomes a murder whodunit of the kind best left to indie flicks -- meaning the emphasis is on story and character rather than on bloodshed. Not that some indie flicks would go heavy on the gore; that's not what this one is about.
Tommy Hudler (David Arquette) is young, eager to succeed, and ready to learn the exciting world of home security systems sales. Under the guidance of firm owner Heinrich Grigoris (Stanley Tucci), Tommy becomes a star salesman and teevee spokesmodel for the firm's advertising. As a more than substantial bonus, Tommy beds his first client, Gale Ancona (Kate Capshaw), a widowed mother at least a decade older than he. A good job; a good lover In fact, Tommy does so well that the boss and his partner Sally (Mary McCormack) bring him into their inner circle and reveal that they are not above committing the petty burglary or break in to stir up business. Tommy is bothered this criminal turn, but not as much as when Gale forgets to arm her system . . .
Yeah, you think know where this is going . . . but you could be wrong. On the way towards your foregone conclusion and the inevitable confrontation between Arquette and Tucci, the adaptation skews deliriously and deliciously into the realm of licentious, but not Starr report explicit, sextalk. You'll get whacked at least twice and, if your crowd is anything like the audience Cranky sat with, you'll find yourself in stitches. Also tucked into the flick's giggles is a really fine performance by Capshaw, as the lover who knows that she is too old for her man, and her eventual introduction to his family and a minor, but important subplot, about Gale's son Howard (Ryan Reynolds) and his two lovers.
Arquette is fine as the salesman who thinks too much for his own good, but it is on Tucci's shoulders that the weight of what would seem to be a too obvious plot hangs. It is a performance that glitters. True, his character admits to being the equivalent of Number Two, but there's an all too human heart beating under that shell and this shines through as the character faces the end of his miserable existence. If you're not swept up in the madness and delirium of these characters, you'll find the ending and conclusions trite. But you shouldn't have a hard time buying in.
The Alarmists is the kind of flick that comes from such a small studio that it may very well vanish before any kind of word gets out. It's good enough that it will get tremendous recommendations from the Tarantino wannabees at the local video store. By the scale, that should relegate it to the $3 range but, the embarrassment I've inflicted on Reddin by mentioning Perverts aside, Cranky found The Alarmists to be a truly fun indie flick. Well made, by first time director Evan Dunsky, well acted and, at only 93 minutes start to finish, not hard to sit through at all.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Alarmist, he would have paid . . .
Recommended, if you can find it.
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