Review

  • One of the more obvious truths in show business is that, since people have different tastes in art, there are many different kinds of movies, and many different ways of talking about them. As my Uncle Al used to say, "Kid, that's why Mister Ford makes 'em in a lot of different colors now."

    My late father was a lyricist back in the days of Tin Pan Alley; he sold his first song lyric before he was twenty, and he spent his entire life delighting in, and making his living with, his imagination. He treasured imaginative ways of telling stories, and I guess that's why I married a poet. I will forgive an otherwise uninspired movie if it offers an imaginative and unusual way of thinking about an idea.

    Art, like religion, is a cultural universal; every society on earth makes art. In homogeneous cultures, and in all totalitarian societies, artistic orthodoxy is highly valued. The more diverse a culture becomes, the more tolerant it becomes of subversive art. The American film industry today is the most diverse in the world. Instead of an unchanging stream of movies glorifying the fatherland or the revolution, we Americans, or at least some of us, have been entertained by the animated fantasy of Walt Disney, the profound vision of Orson Welles, and even the as-yet-immature imagination of Jack Baran. Who's Jack Baran? I'm coming to that.

    One of my father's favorite songs was Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen's "That Old Black Magic," which contains the line, "You're the mate that fate had me created for." And that's what DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO, directed by Jack Baran, is all about, a comedic fable about luck or fate or destiny, and the mythology that our culture has constructed around it. It's not a new idea, but it's an interesting idea, and it's more interesting to me than whether the good guy will get the bad guy before he blows up another building. The fact that young Jack Baran didn't quite pull it off is forgivable.

    DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO was written by two young graduates of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute, which supports independent filmmaking, that is, movies not driven by the major studios and their commercial formulas for box-office success. Well, they certainly avoided formulas. They've also avoided box-office success. I saw this movie twice the week it opened, and I can say for a fact that at least four other people in my town also saw it because they were in the theater with me.

    I found DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO to be provocative, witty and entertaining, but I surely can see why it's not everyone's cup of tea. Its theatrical colloquy and supernatural premise combine to create a script that probably reads a lot better than it plays. The incongruity between the theme and the characters demands an extreme suspension of disbelief, something most film-goers are simply not willing to do. So what's to like? Well, I liked this movie because it appealed to me like a quirky short story by P. G. Wodehouse, lightweight but clever. I liked it because James LeGros does a terrific job in a supporting role. I also liked it because Nancy Travis sings "That Old Black Magic" in a scene that had me tripping over my tongue.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I liked DESTINY TURNS ON THE RADIO because I think my father would have liked it. It is an imaginative first effort from a bunch of young filmmakers, and investing in it was an act of courage. And evidently, for many people, so was sitting through it.