Category Archives: Directed by Andrew Fleming

Bad Dreams (1988, Andrew Fleming)

At the end of Bad Dreams, as GNR’s Sweet Child of Mine starts up over the end credits… I thought, at least director (and co-writer) Fleming has good taste in music. Turns out he didn’t want the song and a studio exec with a better ear put it in the film.

Bummer. It would’ve been nice to be able to pay the film a complement, even if it was a backhanded one. Bad Dreams is a crappy horror movie. There are more offscreen peculiars one could discuss but I’m going to skip them because it’s not a worthwhile rabbit hole. Though maybe it’d be a good inclusion in a piece about late eighties movies, including critical response, cable, home video, whatever.

But I’m not interested enough. I suffered through it real-time. Just like I suffered through Bad Dreams real-time.

The film is not about bad dreams, though we occasionally get to see some bad dreams so Fleming can “reveal” the story back a few minutes and a character here and there reincarnated. It the first shock death didn’t happen… well, Bad Dreams might have had an entertainingly wacky third act. Good thing Fleming turns back the clock so as to avert that possibility. Wouldn’t want Bad Dreams to be entertaining. At all.

There are a lot of problems with the film and most of them involve Fleming, either in the writing, in how he composes shots (safe for pan and scan and home video), in how he doesn’t direct the actors. Top-billed Jennifer Rubin ought to be able to get something out of the part—she’s a coma patient, awake thirteen years after her seventies cult (led by a bad, but appropriately creepy Richard Lynch—the nose hairs alone are blood-curdling) did the mass suicide thing. Only it’s apparently supposed to be a secret lost to time. The police couldn’t confirm any gas cans so they thought the house just exploded on its own, even though there were apparently documentaries about the cult where they talk about how they all want to die. I mean, Sy Richardson is godawful as the cop, but it doesn’t seem like he’s supposed to be any stupider than anyone else in Bad Dreams. The film’s characters are really dumb, with the supposedly smart ones (shrinks Harris Yulin and Bruce Abbott the stupidest of all), but… the mass suicide thing isn’t a stretch. Yet Fleming treats its reveal like a big deal. Or as big of a deal as you can when you’re shooting scenes soap operas would be embarrassed about.

I occasionally wondered if Bad Dreams started its life as some kind of TV movie—it has a lot of supporting characters, who are all one shade of bad (Susan Ruttan’s pretty awful, Elizabeth Daily’s not good, Dean Cameron tries hard and fails) but some of it’s obviously Fleming’s fault. It couldn’t make it as a TV movie, not in acting, directing, writing. Not even in the eighties. Though the terrible costumes definitely make it in the eighties. Young empathetic but clearly incompetent doctor Abbott—who doesn’t think Rubin needs any mental health care after waking up from the coma because he wants to romance her and tells her about it frequently in the second act—wears his denim collared shirt with a tie. The scariest thing in Bad Dreams is Abbott’s wardrobe.

The plot has Rubin in a mental hospital because they can’t find her family so she doesn’t get to leave. They don’t address the aging in the coma thing, from tween to twenty-something. The film’s got zero curiosity about its characters. Cameron, Daily, Ruttan, they’re all in group with Rubin; Abbott runs the group (badly), falls for endlessly traumatized Rubin. The film’s characterization of people getting mental health treatment is real bad. Real bad. Even if you factor in its the eighties, Abbott and Harris don’t even worry about people around the hospital dying until at least four in. Bad Dreams exists in the universe where lawsuits haven’t been discovered yet.

Technically, everything’s pretty bad, quite frankly. Alexander Gruszynski’s isn’t as incompetent as Jeff Freeman’s editing. Jay Ferguson’s music? Bad. The film also loads up The Chambers Brothers’s Time Has Come Today whenever there’s a flashback, which feels often. Fleming’s not just inept, he’s also obvious. His filmmaking is unpleasant to watch. And the cover of My Way when Cameron has his big—and terribly directed—freakout set piece? Icky bad.

Bad Dreams, in general, is icky bad. It’s got nothing going for it. Not even the eighty minute runtime. It’s too dumb even for eighty minutes.

And I didn’t even get into the lousy Bates house knock-off, which ends up being there for Fleming to pretend he’s Andrew Wyeth. Fleming does such a bad job of it, you forget he’s showing an actual ambition for once.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Fleming; screenplay by Fleming and Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Fleming, Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette, and Yuri Zeltser; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by Jeff Freeman; music by Jay Ferguson; production designer, Ivo Cristante; costume designers, Deborah Everton, Ronald Leamon, and Patricia Norris; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jennifer Rubin (Cynthia), Bruce Abbott (Dr. Alex Karmen), Richard Lynch (Harris), Harris Yulin (Dr. Berrisford), Sy Richardson (Detective Wasserman), Dean Cameron (Ralph), Susan Ruttan (Miriam), Susan Barnes (Connie), Louis Giambalvo (Ed), Elizabeth Daily (Lana), Damita Jo Freeman (Gilda), and Charles Fleischer (Ron the Pharmacist).


Dick (1999, Andrew Fleming)

Andrew Fleming’s Dick has an irresistible premise (slow-witted teenage girls take down Nixon, not Woodward and Bernstein), but it turns out not to be enough for a movie. Not even a ninety-four minute movie. Besides inspired casting of Watergate figures (Dave Foley as Haldeman is probably my favorite, but Saul Rubinek’s Kissinger is the best–and Dan Hedaya’s a perfect Nixon), Fleming doesn’t really know what to do with his story. He covers some of the Watergate stuff, but not enough. He dumbs down the revelation of evidence and so on, not really taking advantage of it for his story. Once he’s established Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in the White House, he does a couple montages and throws in Williams’s positively icky on Nixon, but the movie’s mostly on its way toward the end. Neither Dunst or Williams really have characters–which is fine, given Dick is a farcical comedy–but Fleming doesn’t have ninety-four minutes of story either.

Dick gets long after a while, once the laughing out loud stops–usually whenever Dunst and Williams are in charge of their scenes, instead of Foley, Hedeya, or Rubinek–and I don’t think there’s a single big laugh for the film’s last hour. There’s a good Foley scene, but it’s amusing, not laugh out loud. Given the lousy pacing of that last hour, I wonder if Fleming cut some stuff out to make the movie shorter, but I doubt it. Kirsten Dunst’s character doesn’t have a story, she has a brother. Devon Gummersall, as the brother, is good. Except he’s just a funny pot-head and the film’s better when he’s around because he says funny pot-head stuff. Dunst ranges from awful to bad. She’s worse when she’s alone. Michelle Williams, halfway through, goes from dumb to not-so dumb and she’s fine in the second half. The contrast between her and Dusnt’s acting prowess is stunning. One also gets the feeling Williams heard the word ‘Watergate’ before filming the movie.

We rented Dick because a) we’d just watched All the President’s Men and b) I thought it was funnier. I remembered it being funnier. But it isn’t. The film only makes it through the second half because of Hedeya, Williams, and Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch as Woodward and Bernstein (Bernstein’s such a jackass I wonder if Fleming consulted with Nora Ephron). The film also benefits–more than it deserves–from the great use of the 1970s music. The end is–as I remembered while watching it–a real kicker set to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Fleming; written by Fleming and Sheryl Longin; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by Mia Goldman; music by John Debney; production designer, Barbara Dunphy; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Kirsten Dunst (Betsy Jobs), Michelle Williams (Arlene Lorenzo), Jim Breuer (John Dean), Will Ferrell (Bob Woodward), Dave Foley (Bob Haldeman), Teri Garr (Helen Lorenzo), Ana Gasteyer (Rose Mary Woods), Devon Gummersall (Larry Jobs), Dan Hedaya (Dick), Bruce McCulloch (Carl Bernstein), Ted McGinley (Roderick), Ryan Reynolds (Chip), Saul Rubinek (Henry Kissinger), Harry Shearer (G. Gordon Liddy), Len Doncheff (Leonid I. Brezhnev), G.D. Spradlin (Ben Bradlee) and Checkers (Brunswick).


RELATED