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Yeah, I'm wearing real fur ... what
the hell are you gonna do about it?
Huh?!?

Willard
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Crispin Glover is an absolute nutcase (imagine a quiet room in the shape of a vodka bottle).  I'd be worried about being sued for slander if I were to say that about any other prominent actor (*ahem* Tom Cruise *ahem*), but Crispin seems like the type that would wear the "absolute nutcase" title as a badge of honor. 

I've been captivated by Glover's odd acting style ever since I first saw him up on the big screen, way back in 1984, starring as the only memorable victim in Friday the 13th Part 4:  The Final Chapter.  Then came Back to the Future, only one year later, and the guy who had so recently played a sliced up teen was now portraying Michael J. Fox's friggin' dad!  Another year goes by, and out comes the extremely disturbing, The River's Edge.  It was then that it was confirmed, in my impressionable teenage mind, that this guy was about as good as it got in the acting world, and I was probably watching movies that were most likely geared for people a lot older than 13. 

Like most of us do, unless we die prematurely, I ended up growing up, became an "adult" and put childhood things, such as slasher movies, science-fiction films and The River's Edge into, well, to be honest, my VCR collection.  I would fondly look back on the good old days, and smile when remembering going to the theater, which never checked anyone for ID, and watching Glover lending some desperately needed personality to the "final" installment of the Friday the 13th series.  Still, Glover, much like the concept of the Friday the 13th franchise actually coming to an end, seemed to be a distant memory - and then came, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, one of my favorite movies ever created, and with Glover playing a (what else?) mortician. 

It was 1993, and Crispin Glover was back on my radar.  "There's that one guy," I told a friend, who was annoyed that I poked him on the shoulder to get his attention, "that guy we used to think was all cool, back when we were kids!"  A couple more years went by, and I found out that Crispin was coming to Minneapolis to do a poetry reading.  Of course a friend (not the same friend as the friend I just wrote about) and I snatched ourselves some tickets, and listened to him read some of the weirdest shit that I've ever heard.  It wasn't necessarily good, it was just weird.  So weird that it was enjoyable.  Like having sex with a jar of grape jelly. 

After reading his stuff, Crispin stuck around to sign autographs.  A bunch of strange looking people waited in line to meet the man who was Michael J.'s father.  I flipped my lid and realized that I didn't have my Friday the 13th Part 4:  The Final Chapter tape with me.  Mercy!  My house was about 20 miles away from First Avenue, where Crispin was signing, and, from the looks of it, there were about 20 minutes worth of kooks waiting in line for an autograph.  I looked to my bud and asked, "Do you think we can make it?"  He said, "no," and then I insisted we try it, anyway. 

About 15 minutes later, we were at my apartment, where I couldn't find the tape.  I went ballistic like a nun caught in the shower with Ron Jeremy, and said, "this sucks big dick!"  Then my friend found the tape.  "Where was it," I asked.  "With the rest of your tapes, right where you looked."  I glanced at my watch.  "Do you think we can make it back," I asked.  "No," my friend replied.  And then we hopped into the car and drove to First Avenue. 

The line at First Ave. was gone, and things looked hopeless.  "You got here a few minutes too late," some fat guy who I've never seen since told us.  "Crud," I said.  Then, some chick I thought was sort of hot, even though she was all gothy looking, said, "Crispin's still up there.  He's getting ready to leave."  I made a mad dash for the room he was signing autographs in, handed him my Friday the 13th Part 4:  The Final Chapter tape, listened to him do that weird laughy thing that he does, and then heard him say, "you're the first person that's asked me to sign this."  Then he signed it and laughed a whole bunch more and did the Jason "music."  After that, he ran out of the room, and I never saw him again.  As I said, Crispin Glover is an absolute nut.

Obviously, Glen Morgan, the screenwriter and director of the new dark comedy, Willard, agrees with me.  This time around, Glover gets to play the title role (As Rubin, he shared a title with "Ed" in Rubin and Ed, back in '91)!  Top-billing hasn't turned the eccentric actor from the wonderful world of weirdness to the dark side of normalcy.  As a matter of fact, this is Crispin at his strangest.  And Willard, both the film and the character, fits him like a glove lubed with baby oil.  Some may say this whole thing is too "cartoony," or "off-kilter," but they said that about punk rock, too, and now that form of music is so mainstream they advertise baby diapers and soft drinks with it.

I don't give a rat's ass (pun intended) how offbeat this little film is, because Glover's over-the-top acting, paired with Morgan's exceptional job as a first time director, make you believe it's real.  Just through a camera angle, or a look from Glover, you can feel what these rats are going through.  You can feel Willard's rat friend, Socrates, and the pride that pumps through his veins, whenever Willard tells him that he's his "only friend."  You can feel the jealousy coursing through Big Ben the rat, when he's not allowed to sleep in Willard's bed with him and his rat friend, Socrates.  I'm not sure what it says, but it sure says something when you feel more sympathetic toward a couple of rats than you do toward any of the human characters in this week's other major release, The Hunted.

Glen Morgan, who paid his dues writing episodes of The X-Files, and its assorted spin-offs, and then finally made his big screen debut with his script for the original, Final Destination, has taken his directorial cues from masters of oddity such as Tim Burton, Barry Sonnenfeld (during his Addams Family phase) and George Miller.  Morgan manages to create an unforgettable atmosphere that holds its own against, Beetlejuice, Babe: Pig in the City, Addams Family Values or Sleepy Hollow.  Like all of those films, this is a dark comedy.  Unlike those films, it becomes deadly serious, and that turns into what is nearly its downfall.

The further we get into the film, the darker the movie gets.  About halfway through, we're no longer watching a dark comedy, but rather a fairly weak attempt at horror.  The film doesn't succeed in scaring you, so the last half of the movie essentially fails.  Only those lovable, huggable rats, and Crispin's performance, pull it through.  The best, and easily most comedic, scenes in the film feature Willard and his mother, and take place early on in the picture.  During these moments, the film oozes of the original Psycho, only this time, "Norman's" mother isn't a corpse.  Crispin Glover is the most perversely charismatic crazy to hit the silver screen since Anthony Perkins took on Norman Bates, in the original Psycho.

Willard could have been a classic.  As it is, it's a fine little dark comedy that gets mixed up at the end and starts believing that it's a thriller.  Oh, and I can't end this review without mentioning how pleasantly nasty the scene with the cat is.  Cat lovers, prepare to close your eyes ... kitty's about to get hers!  The Truth about Rats & Dogs?  Nah ... too easy.

I've gotta get Crispin to autograph my DVD of this one.

On a scale of 1-10?

7

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Text (Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].