Italo director Pupi Avati’s return to the U.S. Midwest (location for his 1991 jazz biopic “Bix”) yields embarrassing results in “The Childhood Friend,” a silly MOW-style psychodrama that should have stayed home in Rome. Lensed in English, the movie has already nosedived at Italian hardtops and looks set for the electronic dumpbin elsewhere.
Jason Robards III plays Arnold Gardner, a tough-talking journalist shaken by an old friend’s death in a Chicago hotel room. Gardner blames his pal’s demise on selling out to the TV network after his start as a crusading journalist.
Gardner offers to take over his friend’s talkshow (“The XXVth Hour”) and, though net execs know they’re grasping a nettle, they take a chance. Gardner’s frank, hardhitting, issue-based style proves popular.
As his ratings rise, so do Gardner’s personal problems. Already divorced from his wife (Amy Galper), daughter of a high-up suit, Gardner starts receiving calls and letters from a hometown wacko in Indiana. As the pressure mounts, Gardner offers a live phone-in with the murderer on his show.
Revelation that Gardner and the wacko both raped the same girl 20 years earlier climaxes in a blah shootout finale.
Though the plot has more holes than a golf course, and dialogue is too grounded in simple exposition, Avati at least keeps things moving with restless editing and a mobile camera. But pic’s rambling style, which may have worked in a European setting, is too loose to harness a genre item set Stateside with a Yank cast.
Performances are as bland as the script, with Robards glowering and charmless as the ambitious journo and Galper photogenic but flat as his ex-wife. Background score, based on Wagner’s “Parsifal” prelude, is wildly inappropriate. Technical credits are OK, though dialogue is noticeably out of synch at several points.