Picks and Pans Review: Talk Radio

updated 01/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Shock radio, Tabloid TV, The disease is everywhere, And spreading. In 1985 actor Eric Bogosian wrote a startling play about Barry Champlain, a fictional radio call-in host in the questionable business of providing crackpots with a forum. Now, collaborating on a screenplay with director Oliver (Platoon, Wall Street) Stone, Bogosian has broadened his play to incorporate details from the life of Alan Berg, the Denver talk show host gunned down by neo-Nazis in 1984. There are also irrelevant flashbacks to show how Champlain went from haberdasher to s.o.b. and lost a lovely wife (the excellent Ellen Greene) in the process. The locale of Champlain's show has been switched from Cleveland to the much-maligned Dallas, no doubt to stir more violent reverberations. Overkill? You bet. The play doesn't need the excess baggage or the swooping, darting camera work that makes you woozy. Still, Stone's hyperkinetic direction keeps you riveted. He stalks every move Champlain makes around the studio as he revs up bigots, druggies, sex fiends and religious fanatics whom he then viciously puts down. Once Champlain's anger was genuine; now he's hawking it to become a star. Bogosian's hair-trigger performance is a marvel; he distills the essence of a character trapped between vanity and self-hate. Don't look for insights about what the current proliferation of "shock jocks" means for our society. That's another movie. This one simply plugs in a live wire named Eric Bogosian and lets him set off sparks. The effect is electrifying. (R)

From Our Partners