Picks and Pans Review: Wilder Napalm

updated 09/06/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Debra Winger, Dennis Quaid, Arliss Howard

They don't come any odder than this determinedly eccentric whiffle ball of a movie, a comedy-drama that frequently crosses over from whimsy. Napalm's whacko plot pits two brothers (Quaid and Howard) against each other over the issue of whether to exploit their telekinetic powers to start fires. Howard favors keeping quiet and trying to lead as normal a life as possible while the more flamboyant (flame-boyant?) Quaid wants to scorch big on David Letterman and make bucks endorsing lighter fluid. The siblings are also competing for Winger, who is married to Howard but for whom Quaid has always, dare we say, carried a torch. Winger, in a role that must have looked better on paper than it plays, portrays an oversexed sprite under house arrest for arson. She wears only green, plays the cello and lasciviously whispers to her volunteer-fireman husband as he heads out for the day, "Bring home the boots and helmet tonight."

Who are these people? One of the many problems with this movie is that its characters lack context. The clues dropped about their backgrounds—Winger's knowledge of classical music and the brothers' preppy clothes and throwaway references to the Algonquin Round Table—seem ludicrously incongruent with the trailer-park-style existences all three live.

The always watchable Winger and Quaid salvage several scenes with their obvious relish for their outsized, loopy characters. And Howard, the most repressed member of this trio, comes across as the most believable—and most touching. In the end, the kindest thing one can say about Wilder Napalm is that, thanks to the actors, there are more amusing scenes and affecting moments than the film deserves. (PG-13)

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