Picks and Pans Review: Twinkle, Twinkle Killer Kane

UPDATED 09/08/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/08/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

There are two reasons why this is probably the finest large-scale American surrealist film ever made: (1) It is about the only large-scale American surrealist film ever made (Slaughterhouse-Five is the closest contender); and (2) it is oddly enticing, often funny, superbly acted and ingeniously written by William Peter (The Exorcist) Blatty. The movie is set during the Vietnam era in a castle in the Pacific Northwest. American servicemen are being treated there for failures of nerve. One thinks he's Superman. Another tries to walk through walls, and when he can't, pounds them with hammers, "to set an example for the other atoms." A third wants to stage Hamlet with an all-dog cast, featuring a Great Dane. Into this Marat/Sade spin-off enters a Special Forces colonel, an expert in hand-to-hand combat who has been assigned as "chief psychiatrist." (His name, Killer Kane, comes from the 1930s Buck Rogers serial villain, who lobotomized his enemies with special helmets.) Despite a flurry of war metaphors and religious parables, the plot rarely unravels, thanks to Stacy Keach, who plays Kane; Scott Wilson, as an astronaut who aborted a moon mission; Ed Flanders, marvelously effective as a real doctor in frenetic surroundings, and Jason Miller, the old exorcist himself, as the Shakespearean. The film is talky, and its ending discordant, but it has momentum and some nicely staged confrontations. One, between Keach and a motorcycle gang leader, belongs in a textbook for directors on how to build tension. Kane is pretentious, but also challenging and fascinating. (R)

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