A self-consciously campy riff on '50s cheapie-creepies, "The Mesmerist" plays like a mercilessly extended version of an uninspired "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Helmer Gil Cates Jr. encourages his players to push too hard, too often, with shameless mugging and overstated line readings designed to signal aud that, yes, pic really is supposed to be a comedy.

A self-consciously campy riff on ’50s cheapie-creepies, “The Mesmerist” plays like a mercilessly extended version of an uninspired “Saturday Night Live” sketch. Helmer Gil Cates Jr. encourages his players to push too hard, too often, with shameless mugging and overstated line readings designed to signal aud that, yes, pic really is supposed to be a comedy. Unfortunately, this heavy-handed approach pounds humor out of the few modestly amusing lines in script by Ron Marasco and Michael Goorjian. Cable-bound misfire likely will bore even insomniacs who stumble across it during latenight channel surfing.

Loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe story previously filmed as a segment of Roger Corman’s “Tales of Terror” (1962), “Mesmerist” is a frenetic farce about chronically nasty and fatally ill millionaire Valdemar (Howard Hesseman), who serves as a guinea pig for a self-aggrandizing hypnotist (Jason Carter). While mesmerized, Valdemar is supposed to describe after-death existence. But experiment allows millionaire to continue making life miserable for his ditzy daughter’s (Jessica Capshaw) despised boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris). The actors huff and puff, but generate few laughs. On the plus side, costumes and kitschy production design cleverly evoke flavor of B-movie shockers from a half-century ago.

The Mesmerist

Production

A Roxbury Films production. Produced by Terry Dougas, Peter Raskin. Executive producer, Barbara De Fina. Directed by Gil Cates Jr. Screenplay, Ron Marasco, Michael Goorjian, based on "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" by Edgar Allen Poe.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color), Thomas Harting; editor, Jimmy B. Frazier; production designer, Aaron Osborne. Reviewed at South by Southwest Film Festival, Austin, March 11, 2002. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Neil Patrick Harris, Jessica Capshaw, Jason Carter, Howard Hesseman, Jo Champa, George Wyner, Galina Jovovich.
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