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Air traffic controller Max Fiedler is unhappy with his career and his second marriage. An exposure to toxic waste gives him the power of telekinesis. He comes to a crossroads at a beachhouse he shares with his wife, his ex, and a voodoo priestess. Written by
"Modern Problems" was one of those movies that got a lot of play on HBO when I was a kid in the early 80s, and since I was a big Chevy Chase fan at the time, I watched it over and over again. Nearly 30 years later, the film had all but faded from my memory except for a few random bits so when it turned up on Fox Movie Channel over the weekend I decided to give it a shot.
90 minutes later I'm sitting here thinking to myself "Wow, this was pretty bad wasn't it?", and I'm not sure if the film hadn't aged well, or if it simply wasn't a very good film to begin with. All I can say is that I remember enjoying it a heck of a lot more as an easier-to-impress 12 year old.
Chase plays Max, a stressed out Air Traffic Controller who's got serious relationship problems. He's recently broken up with his live-in girlfriend, and his ex-wife (Mary Kay Place), whom he apparently has kept a friendly relationship with, is now "schtupping" (that's an exact quote) an old friend of his from high school (Brian Doyle-Murray, aka Bill's brother). As if that weren't enough, a chance meeting with a leaky Nuclear Waste truck on the highway one night splatters him with radioactive goo, and he wakes up the next morning with telekinetic powers.
You'd think that this would be a license to do a totally go-for-broke slapstick comedy but oddly enough very little is made of Max's newfound abilities till the film is almost over. Chase isn't his usual wild-and-wacky self either, preferring to mope around mooning over his girlfriend (Patti D'Arbanville). Eventually the dysfunctional foursome (Chase, D'arbanville, Doyle-Murray, and Place) go off to Murray's beach house to spend the weekend, joined by one of Murray's clients, an insufferable self-help author played by Dabney Coleman. Coleman is the funniest thing in the film, as his constant jabs and insults finally poke Chase's character into a full on telekinetic meltdown that can only be stopped by a voodoo ritual (?) performed by Murray's Haitian housekeeper (Nell Carter).
"Modern Problems" tries to be quirky and wacky but spends most of the film falling flat on its face. It's got a decent cast and an interesting premise, but its greatest sin is that it casts a gifted comic like Chase and then tells him to be morose and unfunny for much of the run time (till he finally explodes towards the end).
There are a few good bits (Chase using his power to give a guy a massive nosebleed in the middle of a swanky restaurant is a highlight, as is the entire "voodoo" scene) but otherwise "Modern Problems" isn't very "modern" anymore. Easily skippable even for hardcore Chevy Chase fans.
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