film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Night Shift 1982 * * Stars

Picture above is of the movie poster for the film Night Shift
Director: Ron Howard
Year: 1982
Rating: R
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Henry Winkler, Shelley Long, Michael Keaton

Sometimes a film critic has to go against the grain and denounce a movie that is mostly loved by other critics and audience members alike. For me (yes I'm that guy), that flick would be Night Shift. After an initial viewing, I found it very difficult to praise something that's supposed to be a comedy, but offers very few laughs. Harking back to the summer of 1982 when it was released, Night Shift must have shocked people by being about two dudes (polar opposites) who work in a morgue and on the side, become pimps harboring a prostitution ring. I say that because it was Ron Howard's directorial debut. You know the cute little kid on The Andy Griffith Show and the nice guy/good ol' boy from Happy Days. Ronny I gotta say we hardly knew ya! For this to be his first foray into film making, he probably turned a few heads. And let me just put this right out there; Ron Howard is for many reasons, a solid force behind the camera. His direction in "Shift" is substantially good. The fault in this exercise lies entirely in the script. It's trite, lacks heft, and offers a few comic gags that mostly fall flat. Just imagine viewing something with great actors trying their best, but having nothing of real value coming out of their mouths. That's the main reason why I can't recommend this supposed 80's quote machine. It hurts because along with the competent and controlled direction, you have a soundtrack that is pretty darn good too (does a great job of piling on a jazzy, retro feel). Furthermore, I've never said this about a film until now, but the best scenes happen outside and on the streets of NYC (minimal dialogue I might add). Here's the problem though, the majority of what is on screen is strictly interior shots. As a result, Night Shift becomes bland and pedestrian with a plot that projects some painful loose ends.  

Being R rated (I'm thinking it has to do with the subject matter entirely) but having minimal bad language and almost no nudity, it seems like the director and his assistants thought they could get away with holding back. I for one believe that if a film has been saddled with an adult tag, it should stay loyal to that tag (it may not be Howard's fault. He made "Shift" before the MPAA got a hold of it).  

Anyway, this film tells the story of Chuck Lumley (played by Henry Winkler a.k.a. "the Fonz"). He's a nice guy, a total pushover, and a former stockbroker now working as an attendant in a New York City morgue. His job seems to suit him just fine until he is forced to switch his hours permanently working the quote unquote "nightshift." While adjusting to his new work schedule, he is forced to partner up with a nervous oddball named Billy "Blaze" Blazejowski (played by Michael Keaton whose comedic talents are better utilized in his next film, Mr. Mom). Billy is an "idea man" who loves to record his thoughts and ambitions on a tape recorder (this plot point doesn't work, trust me). About halfway through the proceedings, Billy proposes to Chuck that they should use the morgue as sort of a location for soliciting prostitution. Winkler's character, reluctantly agrees to go through with it (I find it strange that he's ok with doing it even though he's not fully interested in making a buck on the side). The one benefit I suppose, is that Chuck meets and becomes romantically involved with one of the prostitutes whose name is Belinda (Shelly Long). With all this information firmly in place, the film continues with your everyday series of high jinks moments. It doesn't surprise you or impress you because the screenplay from Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel seems to be written without enough research or depth of the subject matter. As stated earlier, this is Nightshift's one downfall and it sticks out like a sore thumb.  

There were indeed, a couple of things to ponder while taking in the events in its 1 hour 46 minute running time. For instance, why when Chuck gets busted by the cops and thrown in jail (for being a pimp of course), does Long's character not even bother to see him or help bail him out. It's established early on that she is in love with him and wants to be with him. Second, why when Billy and Chuck are out on bail and looking at some serious jail time, do they literally get off scott free. I mean, in reality, if you're a pimp and you run a whorehouse, you should probably go to jail for a very very long time. Finally, of perpetual annoyance and occurring with many films I've seen over the years, you have another flick in the long list of pictures that gives us a superficial ending wrapping everything up in a nice neat bow tie (yup, everyone is friends and everything is back to normal). What I can't seem to understand is how Winkler's character within almost less than a minute, forgives "Blaze" (Keaton) and becomes his best buddy. It just feels hypocritical being that he attacks Keaton, tells him he's gonna kill him, and let's him know constantly, that he ruined his life. Then as the flick concludes projecting a poignant shot of Keaton, Long, and Winkler walking through Times Square, you feel cheated or tricked into the realm of numbing acceptance. Again, I feel the actors are just doing what they're told and I can't fault them.  

All in all, you have a vehicle where the script manipulates the cast so that they ultimately have to cater to its demands. They basically become puppets. Every performance and speaking voice is decent but you sense that even they (the cast) didn't know how the finished project would look like. Basically, if you dig a lightweight comedy that will make you chuckle once or twice, then Night Shift is for you. If you want to view a memorable, quotable, and untamable risk taker, then don't look here. In the past 30 years, Ron Howard has been successful even to this day. His films are beloved and cherished many times over (for a strange reason, this one is too). Part of me though, wishes he could take back this "night". In one of "shift's" pivotal scenes, Keaton's Billy "Blaze" says, "Is this a great country or what?" Great country yes, great film, not so much. 

Written by Jesse Burleson

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