A tale of negligent homicide, class warfare, vengeance, jealousy and murder, Stephen King's Thinner has the outlines of Shakespearean tragedy and the intellectual content of a jack o'lantern. But as such ventures go, this Halloween handout is more treat than trick, if your tastes run to dripping blood and repellent skin ailments. The production is slick, the Maine scenery is bracing, the characters are well-acted, and in a mumbo-jumbo movie with a few loose ends, the makeup central to the plot and applied by Greg Cannom and Bob Laden to Robert John Burke in the leading role is most admirable.
Never quite scary, never funny for long, never enough over-the-top. It's never compelling plotwise, either, especially toward the sloppy ending, when Mantegna is inexplicably erased from the plot. [26 Oct 1996, p.F3]
Stephen King's novel, written under the name Richard Bachman, makes a successful transition to the screen. Billy (Robert John Burke) is a highly successful defense attorney, getting an acquittal for known mobster Richie (Joe Mantegna). He is trying to diet, topping the scales at three hundred pounds. One night while driving home, Heidi (Lucinda Jenney), Billy's wife, begins fooling around in the car with him while he is driving. In the throes of passion, Billy does not see an elderly gypsy woman crossing the street, runs over her, and kills her. The judge and police chief conspire to cover the crime up, and the death is ruled accidental. That does not sit well with the old woman's even older father, Lempke (Michael Constantine), who brushes Billy's cheek and whispers the title of the film. Soon, Billy is dropping three or four pounds a day. He seems to be disappearing before everyone's eyes, but concern sets in. He is eating twelve thousand calories a day, still losing weight, and now Heidi and his doctor (Sam Freed) are spending a little too much time together. Billy decides to track down the gypsies, especially after hearing and witnessing others in on the conspiracy were cursed as well, and he mistakenly enlists Richie to help him.Greg Cannom's special effects make-up is phenomenal. He has won Oscars in the past, and he should have won again for this film. Burke is totally believable going from 300 to 124 pounds in the span of the story. It helps that Burke's performance is as flawless as his make-up. He does not let all that latex and rubber get in the way, and goes from sympathetic to slightly deranged rather well. Jenney is also good as Heidi, although her character is often relegated to the "supportive wife" routine. The first hour of the film is very suspenseful. Billy is chasing the gypsies, and the authorities are chasing him. However, the film's biggest flaw was also the novel's biggest flaw- letting the convenient mob friend Richie help get revenge on the gypsies. Mantegna is one of those great actors who never receives his just credit, but here his character is just a caricature of mob types Mantegna has played before especially on "The Simpsons"- try listening to Mantegna and not hearing Fat Tony. Holland's direction keeps things fresh, he shockingly shot this on location in Maine instead of fleeing to Canada like most Hollywood films, but the screenplay feels rushed most of the time. I wonder if this would have made a more effective transition to mini-series form, something King has done before. I was surprised by "Thinner." Considering what some film makers have done to King's work, it is a better adaptation when put in that context. Strongly anchored by believable make-up and gore effects, and a fantastic central performance, I recommend it.
The dramatic justification for all this careless maligning of gypsies and lawyers remains as enigmatic as the film's title. The only sure thing about Stephen King's Thinner,in the end, is that Stephen King's bank account is fatter.
There’s really nothing particularly fresh in this routinely crafted, banally scripted and directed effort. Mantegna’s humorously arrogant performance is the pic’s sole distinctive element, and it’s saved for the finale. Still, it’s just not good enough to make up for the rest of the drudgery and put a smile on one’s face leaving the theater.
Movies about gypsy curses are always interesting because it is something that is not often addressed by horror cinema. I, at least, have this perception. In this case, the film has the advantage of being based on yet another story created by Stephen King's seething mind.
The story is based on Billy. He is an obese lawyer who has tried to lose weight with successive diets, without success due to an absolute lack of willpower to carry them out. However, one night, while driving distractedly, he runs over an old gypsy woman, killing her. The gypsies go to court, expecting him to be convicted in some way, but the judge takes the case as an accident and Billy leaves unpunished. In order to prevent that, and at least to have some justice, the old gypsy, father of the dead woman and head of the community, goes to Billy and puts a terrible curse on him: losing weight until death.
The film has good premises and a promising story, but it also has several problems: for a start, black humor is not for everyone. I like it, but I understand if someone tells me they don't like it. Another problem (for me, it was not a problem) is that the film makes us feel guilty for sympathizing with a man who ran over a person and got away with it. In fact, Billy is friendly and pleasant, and the gypsies are portrayed in such a dark way that it is impossible to sympathize with them or with what they say and think.
Robert John Burke is very good in the main role and the way he embodies the enormous physical and mental transformation of the character is a remarkable job. Joe Mantegna, too, as a violent but loyal mobster, is doing very well. But even better than him is a great Daniel von Bargen, a lesser known actor, but who was excellent in the role he was given. Kari Wuhrer and Lucinda Jenney also contribute, in minor characters.
Technically, the film is quite average. Cinematography does not stand out particularly, and the same could be said for the soundtrack, costumes and sets. What is really to be congratulated are the visual and special effects, for the way they managed to transform an extremely obese person into a real corpse. We also cannot forget the good work of the makeup artists, essential for the misshapen appearance of other characters in this film, also cursed by the gypsies.
It's an interesting premise and a decent story. Although this is one of those Stephen King adaptions where one has to wonder if it would have been better off just staying as a book. King has a lot of interesting works out there that would do well as a movie, but Thinner? There's a lot of just watching the guy grow increasingly wary of his situation before actually doing anything. Yet, despite being an odd choice I feel director and writer Tom Holland did a pretty good job with the material.
Thinner is basically a body-horror, revenge movie. One where just about every character is out to get someone else. The real problem with the movie is that no one is in the right. No one deserves to get their revenge, because most of the people they want to get revenge on haven't actually done anything that bad. At least not intentionally. It's just one simple mistake that spirals wildly out of control because everybody wants to get all justice happy. I mean, yeah it's a crappy situation and certain characters did try to weasel their way out of it, but the punishments don't fit the crimes. Especially since everyone sort of brought all of this on themselves.
This could have been forgivable had the movie tried to use it to teach viewers something. Like forgiveness, taking responsibility for our actions, and how taking justice into our own hands only makes things worse. However it doesn't do that. We watch the main character go through all of the movie's events and literally learn nothing. If anything, he ends up a worse person. Missed opportunity.
Now, if you've actually read through all of this it probably sounds like I hated the movie. That isn't quite the case. In fact I think it's an okay watch. Some of that Stephen King magic is still present. We get some interesting scenarios like a dream sequence involving a gypsy carnival. Also, like I said the premise is interesting. If you like Stephen King then you should like the movie.