Two good but not great film adaptations of King novels
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 09/06/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If Thinner had been one of King's better novels, he would not have released it as Bachman; thus, the movie has little chance of becoming a classic or universal crowd-pleaser. The main problem with this whole story is in fact one of thinness; unlike the main character, who enters the arena rather hugely and soon wastes away to nothing, the storyline starts out thin and basically remains that way. Thinner just doesn't have the feel a Stephen King movie (or novel) should have; very little of consequence happens outside the tight strictures of the basic plotline; none of the characters seems to bring any life to what they are doing, and no one besides the young daughter is even remotely likable. Depth of character and the inherently interesting relationships between seemingly real individuals make up one of the greatest strength's driving King's creations; oftentimes, movie adaptations fail to capture this important magic and, predictably, prove somewhat disappointing. In the case of Thinner, such depth was never there to begin with.
Thinner is about as straightforward a plot as you will ever get from Stephen King. Billy Halleck, an obese, morally ambivalent lawyer accidentally (with some help from his unsavory wife) runs over an old gypsy woman. His friendship with the chief of police and presiding judge allows him to walk away scot-free, a fact which obviously annoys the victim's 106-year old father. This gypsy king places a curse upon the men who killed and then covered up the death of his daughter. Billy's curse comes down to one word, "Thinner." He quickly finds himself losing weight, which seems to be a blessing - at first. It doesn't take him long to figure out, though, that he is dropping two to four pounds a day regardless of how much food he throws down his throat. When he sees the effect of the gypsy curse on his two friends, reality hits him like a great big frying pan. As his fear and paranoia increase exponentially, he grows distrustful of his own wife, who truly is just a little too friendly to his basically unhelpful doctor. In desperation, having failed to convince the gypsy to release his curse, Billy turns to one of his shady clients, using him to implement his own "white man's curse" on the gypsy king and his thoroughly despicable grand-daughter. The ending of the movie differs slightly from King's original ending, but it comes off rather well.
Cujo is probably my least favorite of all the Stephen King films. Let's start with the fact that the novel is not conducive to a film adaptation in the first place - the idea of Cujo is a good one, but the characters and atmosphere of the story are as unappealing as meatloaf left out in the hot sun for about three months. Vic Trenton (Daniel Hugh Kelly) is the only half-way sympathetic character to be found here, but he, unfortunately, looks like a reject from The Brady Bunch. Then you have his wife Donna (Dee Wallace); not only is she unattractive, she is having an affair with one of her husband's friends. And young Tad (Danny Pintauro) - I know he's a little kid, and we were all scared of the dark at that age, and all of us would have squawked incessantly if we were trapped in a car by a giant rabid hellhound, but he is just so incredibly annoying. Less important characters, such as Donna's illicit boy toy and the dysfunctional Camber family, suck what little air is left over out of the room. The town itself looks like it should have been abandoned ten years ago. And the lighting - a sunny day has never been as depressing as what you see here. I don't like the music, either, but I guess I've complained enough already.
And what of Cujo himself? Normally, as an animal lover, I would fall in love with any animal in a film. Not Cujo. Sure, he didn't go out and get rabies on purpose, but he had no business chasing that cute little bunny rabbit in to the bat-occupied hole in the ground in the first place. On top of that, he proved unable to finish the job when he had the film's two least likable characters trapped. I've got to give the canine actor his props, though, as he gave everything he had to this film. He had to endure all kinds of miseries to take on the look of a rabid gigantic killer, and he held nothing back when told to attack people, cars, doors, windows - whatever. He also, I am quite sure, did all of his own stunts. Sadly, in yet another slap in the mug to canine actors everywhere, he was left entirely out of the credits. He was the only actor in this production who deserved to have his name in lights, yet he didn't even rate the same dignity as the film's best boy and assistant cooks.
All in all, Thinner is a perfectly good movie that really doesn't even aspire to anything greater than what it is. Stephen King makes another memorable appearance as the town pharmacist, and that is pretty much the highlight of the whole film for me. Obviously, I pretty much hated watching Cujo, but I must admit that, by and large, it was a pretty good adaptation of King's novel - although I was exceedingly disheartened to find that the director lacked the courage to end the film the way Stephen King ended the novel. A lot of people complained about King's ending, but it was the right one and should have carried over to the film adaptation."