The director of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate is more at home with minute personal tensions than with the epic hysteria this project required, so file the film under botched masterpieces.
It's a flawed film, hampered by weird tonal shifts and an overpopulated cast. But, 31 years later, Catch-22's chilliness seems forgivable, its vision of a military (and a nation) ruled by gung-ho capitalists, shameless opportunists, and evil yes-men as prescient and incisive as ever.
This film wants to be bleak, nihilistic, and darkly hilarious but Catch-22 emerges as an exercise in frustration for those unprepared for Nichols's episodic, detached, and surreal treatment of the novel. Like a nightmare, the film shifts from one bizarre episode to another, with Alan Arkin's dazed Yossarian reacting to the madness that surrounds him, but second only to the viewer.
There are startling effects and good revue touches here and there, but the picture goes on and on, as if it were determined to impress us. It goes on so long that it cancels itself out, even out of people's memories; it was long awaited and then forgotten almost instantly.