WHERE CRITICS FEAR TO TREAD: RHINOCEROS

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In my travels I happened upon a DVD of this all-but-forgotten quicksilver and felt the need to snatch it up right away.  I hope it wasn't a mistake; at least I hope I don't start seeing it everywhere at much lower prices.  It's letterboxed, but it looks like they just cropped the picture rather than do a new transfer, which is always a shame in my book.  DVD extras include an interview with the director Tom O'Horgan, and a review of the play and the movie.

For those of us who are fans of 'The Producers' and have heard the rumors of another Zero and Gene pic that's not as good, we just can't help ourselves.  I mean, is it really that bad?  True, there's clearly no comparison between the two, but 'Rhinoceros' does have some strengths, mainly Zero and Gene.  And Karen Black looked like she was having fun.  Also good to see Joe Silver.  The main problem for me was that it was too stage-y, people reacting in stage-y ways to things; sudden, inconsistent shifts in tone.  Also, the cheesy '70s music making it sound like a disco or a '70s detective series, although a driving theme song does emerge from the ruckus.

There's good writing here, you can see that.  They say the play is a classic, but I'm too tired to do all the research on that.  The script runs a gauntlet, starting off as absurdist comedy but winding up more like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' meets 'My Dinner With André', with some shades of 1984 thrown in, or maybe it's just me.  The standout scenes in terms of writing are the scene in the office, Zero's transformation (good performance), and Gene and Karen attempting to eke out couplehood amidst the storm of rhinos in the streets below.  I think my favorite single line of the whole movie is when Gene tells Karen "We've gone through 25 years of marriage in just a few minutes".  And you got to admire the not-so-thinly disguised plug Ionesco gives himself, although some would say the proper term is recursive (computer science only) or self-referential.  Zero delivers it about as objectively as anyone can.

O'Horgan in his interview mentions that he was a big fan of 'The Producers', and apparently Zero was easier on him than on Mel Brooks.  One could almost draw scene-by-scene comparisons between the two: Zero yells in Gene's ear here, for example, and Zero becomes Gene's mentor until he starts transforming.  However, Gene's character here is uptight in more introverted ways yet very relaxed in restaurants, and strangely scholarly about his alcoholism.  Ultimately it's just not my kind of movie, becoming the cinematic equivalent of a marathon or a crawl through the desert, and I'll be sure to jump right to the scene I want to see the next time I see it.  I think I've got that road map down pretty well; I had plenty of time to memorize it as the movie rolled on to its finish.  They show the movie's highlights during the interview with O'Horgan, and even he at some point goes "I need a real rhinoceros!"

**1/2

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

(c)2004 Bulk Entertainment

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