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Terminal USA

San Francisco filmmaker Jon Moritsugu turns the American sitcom family on its head with "Terminal USA," a post-punk, psychedelic picnic brimming with wholesome depravity and playfully twisted stereotypes. Part of the Independent Television Service's "TV Families" series, this rambunctious volley of flagrantly tasteless humor could whip up a minor cult following, especially in the U.K. and Europe.

San Francisco filmmaker Jon Moritsugu turns the American sitcom family on its head with “Terminal USA,” a post-punk, psychedelic picnic brimming with wholesome depravity and playfully twisted stereotypes. Part of the Independent Television Service’s “TV Families” series, this rambunctious volley of flagrantly tasteless humor could whip up a minor cult following, especially in the U.K. and Europe.

Moritsugu plays up the incongruousness of Asian ethnicity wedged into a soap operatic, all-white TV entertainment mold, with a seriously problem-plagued Japanese-American family whose delivery is pure Dick and Jane. His contorted take on staple small-screen drama ingredients like drugs, incipient sexuality, discrimination, infirmity and parenting angst never goes much beyond droll trivialization, but still, it offers a tongue-in-cheek alternative to “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

Ma (Sharon Omi) sits around in glamorous boudoir garb, staying sweet thanks to life-support drugs meant for bedridden Grandpa (Lenny Lang). Dad (Ken Narasaki) is a model of earnestness and solid family values with a pent-up urge to annihilate the old man.

Begging parental concern are their pregnant, nymphomaniacal cheerleader daughter (Jenny Woo), and twin sons (both played by Moritsugu), Kazumi, a nihilistic junkie with a g.f. from another planet (Amy Davis), and Marvin, a computer nerd nursing a secret passion for men in uniform. Vicious debt-collecting drug-dealers, neighborhood neo-Nazis, vengeful cheerleading cohorts and a family lawyer recruiting for the child porn industry round out the picture.

Perfs are appropriately large throughout, with standout input from Omi and Narasaki as perfect embodiments of unctuously righteous TV parents mutated by a splash of venal duplicity.

Jennifer Gentile’s inventive production design re-creates the suburban picket-fence home in a garish comic-strip realm that’s cleanly shot by Moritsugu’s fellow West Coast underground cinema exponent Todd Verow. While the antics are generally well-sustained, they could perhaps have benefited from being cut to a marginally tighter rhythm. Frivolous sex and gore content is far from explicit, and hard to take offense at. A self-censored version nevertheless exists for TV.

Terminal USA

Production: An Independent TV Services presentation of a Killing Kulture production. Produced by Andrea Sperling. Directed, written by Jon Moritsugu.

Crew: Camera (color), Todd Verow; editor, Gary Weimberg; music, Brian Burman; production design, Jennifer Gentile; art direction, Peter Calvin; costume design, Elizabeth Canning; sound, M and M Prods., Monte Cazazza, Michelle Handelman; associate producer, Timothy Innes; coordinating producer (for ITVS), James Schamus; assistant director, Erica Marcus. Reviewed at Rotterdam Intl. Film Festival, Feb. 2, 1994. Running time: 54 MIN.

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