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Ed TV  

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Dennis Hopper, Rob Reiner, Elizabeth Hurley, Clint Howard Directed by: Ron Howard Written by: Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel

Let's be honest; fame - while very seductive - is really nothing more than a gimmick. It used to be less than that; a fringe benefit for doing something noteworthy. But times are changing, and fame has evolved from a mere added "perk" to a superficial entity sought after by some in the hopes it will somehow change their lives or maybe give them added meaning. I'm sure there are many reasons why one would seek fame, but the point is, notoriety has become a goal in and of itself.

The executives at the Northwest Broadcasting Company are aware of this, and in an effort to cater to that desire, have an idea. They want to put the life of an ordinary man - twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week - on television. No actors, no script, no post-production editing, just a camera crew encompassing one individual all the time. The man they select is Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), a video-store clerk with no real ambitions in life. They choose him for his engaging personality, hoping audiences will be drawn in by his boyish charm. At first, Ed is captivated by the attention he gets. He revels in his new-found fame until he realizes he can't live a normal life with the vulture-like cameras hovering over his every move. (It's somewhat odd that it takes him so long to understand that.) Things get especially complicated when the network decides to have cameras follow every member of his family, thereby being able to cut to whoever is the most "interesting" at any particular time. Ed decides this is enough, and using the influential power the network (unwittingly, at this point) gave him, he attempts to get his life back.

Director Ron ("Apollo 13","Ransom") Howard injects the story with plenty of humor with some dramatic elements as well. The comedy works, the drama isn't as effective.

The screenplay was written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("A League of Their Own"), two very experienced and extremely gifted comedic talents. What they do well here is get the most out of an unusual premise. The best jokes are the ones that aren't forced, but are instead the result of the suddenly strange situation these characters find themselves in. For example, when Ed's new love, Shari (Jenna Elfman) tells him she doesn't enjoy carrying on a relationship in the public eye because so many people hate her, he responds with: "Aw, who hates you, baby?" She promptly grabs a USA Today, "Seventy-one percent of the people!" I also like the scene where Shari, furious with her ex-boyfriend (and Ed's brother) Ray, played winningly by the very funny Woody Harrelson, spews out all the things she can't stand about him, then realizes he is probably watching at home. She turns to the camera, looks directly into it, and insults his lovemaking ability.

There are a number of scenes like those and they are the best parts of the movie. Where it starts getting bogged down is when it tries to make it's point. The message seems to be how destructive the media can be, and also how the alluring concept of fame has somewhat altered the motives of the American public - instead of receiving the "trophy of recognition" for some form of accomplishment, the movie argues that more and more people would rather simply "buy" or "steal" the recognition. I'm sure there's an element of truth to that, but I think that message has been brought to the fore already. They're not breaking new ground here.

There have been numerous comparisons between "Ed tv" and last year's "The Truman Show". Despite the "ordinary guy on television" parallels, the movies are rather different. "The Truman Show" was more about one man's journey of discovery, instead of a message film on the addictive power of the media; it touched on those issues, but it was Carrey's journey to find a better life for himself that ultimately drove that story forward. In my opinion, a more apt comparison to this film would be "To Die For", Gus Van Sant's deliciously dark comedy about a dimwitted news reporter wannabe (Nicole Kidman) trying to make a name for herself in a tiny New England town. Both films are funny, but what gave that movie it's edge was that it was told through the intellectually-skewed eyes of the Kidman character. We were able to see how the infectious influence of the media took it's toll on this not-too-bright woman. "Ed tv" isn't told from any one character's particular point of view. The story may seem to be told from Ed's perspective, but it's really not. It is about it's gimmick, rather than the characters involved in it.

Still, the humorous elements of the film (and there are many) make me recommend it, albeit by a somewhat narrow margin. Director Ron Howard knows his way around a comedy and handles those scenes with a deft touch. (The morning of the show's first broadcast is an exercise in hilarity.) The message may not be anything new, but the movie is certainly tuned in to it's laughs.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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