Reduced to some raw-boned ideas, the film version of “Stephen King’s Thinner” is horror lite. This is a meat and potatoes genre outing rich on starch but short in providing the basic requirements for nutritional scare fare. It’s one of the more pedestrian translations of the shockmeister’s books, and is headed for the video remainders pile after a brief, lackluster theatrical run.
The story is literally a fat metaphor. Think “living off the fat of the land” and how America is obsessed with fad diets and you begin to grasp the narrative underpinnings. Both elements appear to have eluded the picture’s filmmaking team.
Protag Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is first seen one morning on his way to the bathroom scale. He weighs in at pretty close to 300 pounds. But his wife (Lucinda Jenney) has him on a liquid regime that just might work if she could monitor him 24 hours a day.
Lawyer Halleck is off to defend Mafia scion Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna) in one of the few trials where he might actually be innocent. But more of that later.
Back in the picture postcard town of Fairview, a gypsy troupe has set up tent in the local square. Halleck is amused by the colorful bunch, but Judge Rossington (John Horton) considers them a virulent strain and finds a legal loophole to boot them outside the city limits.
That very evening the Hallecks, fresh from a diet-breaking victory dinner, get “feisty” on the drive home. Distracted by his wife’s gymnastics. Billy runs smack into a gypsy crossing the street. Worse, she’s the daughter of the 109-year-old king, Tadzu Lempke (Michael Constantine).
At the inquest, Judge Rossington speeds through hastily contrived evidence and declares the incident an accident. Halleck is happy to go along with the verdict. But the elder Tadzu, realizing he will have to take matters into his own hands, puts his finger on the reckless driver’s cheek and intones “thinner.”
What it all means is that where local justice failed, gypsy curse prevails. Halleck begins to drop several pounds daily and more when he fails to gulp down a hearty meal.
Delight turns to horror when it becomes clear the process doesn’t stop until he hits a size 0. Despair leads to paranoia as Halleck starts to imagine his wife’s infidelity and his doctor’s complicity in getting him certified as mentally unstable.
As the pounds evaporate, his only hope is to track down Lempke and get him to lift the curse. But the old man is unrepentant, so Halleck threatens with a hex of his own. Reenter Richie, whose ferocious sense about repaying a debt might just get the gypsy to back down.
King may have better understood the conflict between good and evil and the shadings of law and justice in his book. The filmmakers only spark to the battle between opposing forces of evil. However, more than an hour elapses before reaching that last, desperate ploy. The more central issues slip into the background unresolved, and the film ends in a rather lame, ironic twist.
It’s not quite fair to call “Thinner” a gussied-up episode of “Tales From the Crypt.” There’s really nothing particularly fresh in this routinely crafted, banally scripted and directed effort. Mantegna’s humorously arrogant performance is the pic’s sole distinctive element, and it’s saved for the finale. Still, it’s just not good enough to make up for the rest of the drudgery and put a smile on one’s face leaving the theater.