Picks and Pans Review: The Mean Season

UPDATED 03/04/1985 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/04/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

As its tough-guy title suggests, The Mean Season speaks in the vernacular of '50s movie melodramas: Ominous clouds race across the skyscape, terrified damsels in distress cringe in close-ups, saxophones insinuate on the sound track, and cynical newspaper editors snarl challenges like "This is the one you've been waiting for." Guess again, guy. When burned-out newspaper reporter Kurt Russell gets phone calls from a serial murderer who is a major fascination in Miami, he becomes part of the story he's covering. Like Deadline U.S.A. and Sweet Smell of Success, this big-city melodrama meditates on the way the media and the damned use, abuse and upstage each other. Adapted from John 1982 novel, In the Heat of the Summer, this face-off is essentially Frankenstein on the front page. Katzenbach's ironic twist was that the reporter and the killer constantly alternate in the roles of monster-creator and creation. Russell gives the creep more fame, while the killer bestows on Russell more prestige with his calls. "It's becoming a collaboration," protests the reporter's live-in girlfriend. Played by Mariel Hemingway, she's a screaming ninny with integrity. She wants her fellow to run a small-town paper in Colorado. It's a shock to see the sexy, sturdy Hemingway with her shortstop shoulders standing around petrified, but that's just one of the movie's many incongruities. Director Phillip Borsos telegraphs his plot developments. While Borsos overdosed on atmospheric touches in his first feature, The Grey Fox, this movie is almost devoid of atmosphere. Any episode of Miami Vice has a better feel for the peculiar social climate of the city. There's a terrific concept for melodrama here, but instead of propelling the action along, Leon Piedmont's condescending, pedantic script keeps stopping to announce themes. "You're the story," the villain tells Russell in their climactic confrontation. "You stole it away from me. You became the star." What do the filmmakers think these pronouncements are supposed to be—subtitles for the people in Middle America? The Mean Season sounds as if it were written by the town crier. (R)

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