Tom Selleck flounders in the ill-fitting comedy vehicle "Folks!" Made by the team behind the low-brow hit "Weekend at Bernie's," this feature proves that bad taste is not enough.

Tom Selleck flounders in the ill-fitting comedy vehicle “Folks!” Made by the team behind the low-brow hit “Weekend at Bernie’s,” this feature proves that bad taste is not enough.

“Folks!” marks an inauspicious first release (via 20th Century Fox) of the Italian-backed production outfit Penta Pictures. Two more star vehicles, toplining Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner, are due out soon.

Scripter Robert Klane, having scored with the stiff comedy of “Bernie’s,” attempts to mine black humor from other taboo areas here. The embarrassment of watching Don Ameche grotesquely essay a senile old man is exceeded only by Klane’s idiotic spoofing of euthanasia.

Rickety plot devices begin with Chicago mercantile exchange trader Selleck called to Florida to sign consent forms for mom Anne Jackson’s operation in hospital.

While he’s gone, co-worker Michael Murphy is revealed as an FBI man pulling a sting operation at Selleck’s firm. Under suspicion for leaving so abruptly, Selleck’s bank accounts are frozen and his credit cards annulled.

Jackson recovers, but Selleck’s senile old man (Ameche) burns down his Florida home and wreaks havoc with reckless driving in his vintage Cadillac. (Why all the problems start only when Selleck arrives is unexplained.)

When hard-hearted Floridian sister Christine Ebersole won’t take the old folks in, Selleck drives them back to Chicago to live with his wife and kids.

Main running gags involve Ameche’s senility (every reel he has the same revelation that Selleck is his long-gone son) and Selleck’s accident-prone behavior. The virile star is put through the ringer doing unfunny pratfalls that result in endless injuries and the supposed laff riot of having one testicle amputated.

Second half of the film makes no sense at all, as the FBI suddenly decides Selleck is clean, but he’s served a 30-day eviction notice, just enough time for his wife to leave him and Ebersole move in with her two brats.

In despair, Jackson asks Selleck and Ebersole to kill her and Ameche for the insurance money, setting into motion ridiculous murder attempts.

One of many low points is a brief scene where Ameche gains full lucidity merely to deliver necessary expostion. To take the edge off the euthanasia subplot, battered Selleck becomes senile himself for a reel or two, and doesn’t seem much brighter during a telegraphed, convenient happy ending.

Marking severe career setbacks for Ameche and Selleck, “Folks!” represents an obvious miscalculation as to the low intelligence of the mass audience. Though picture is technically well put together, especially the frequent stunt work directed by Conrad Palisano, its gags don’t work.

Best characterization is the hateful sister portrayed with consistency by Ebersole; Selleck’s mom Jackson and wife Wendy Crewson are just along for the ride.

Klane and his producer Victor Drai are currently in production on a “Bernie’s” sequel, but hopefully their “Folks!” concept will be put to rest.

Folks!

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Mario & Vittorio Cecchi Gori and Silvio Berlusconi presentation of a Penta Pictures and Victor Drai production. Produced by Drai, Malcolm R. Harding. Executive producers, Mario & Vittorio Cecchi Gori. Directed by Ted Kotcheff. Screenplay, Robert Klane.

Crew

Camera (Techincolor; Deluxe prints), Larry Pizer; editor, Joan E. Chapman; music, Michel Colombier; sound (Dolby), Scott D. Smith; production design, William J. Creber; costume design, Jay Hurley; assistant director, Howard Ellis; production manager, Billy Higgins; 2nd unit director & stunt coordinator, Conrad E. Palmisano; associate producer, Burton Elias; casting, Lynn Stalmaster, Jane Alderman & Susan Wielder (Chicago). Reviewed at Chelsea 1 theater, N.Y., May 1, 1992. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 106 min.

With

Jon Aldrich - Tom Selleck
Harry Aldrich - Don Ameche
Mildred Aldrich - Anne Jackson
Arlene Aldrich - Christine Ebersole
Audrey Aldrich - Wendy Crewson
Fred - Robert Pastorelli
Ed - Michael Murphy
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