Unsettled by his experience in World War I, Lake Forest cutup Bill Murray resigns the shallow materialism of his friends and fiancee and sets out on the narrow path to spiritual enlightenment. This intensely embarrassing film clearly has great personal value for Murray (the real-life parallels become chillingly explicit when a subplot introduces a dope- and booze-addicted friend whom Murray is unable to save), but if the motivations are authentic, the result is anything but. The screenplay (cowritten by Murray and director John Byrum) shies away from specifying Murray’s spiritual achievements; instead of maturing, the character simply becomes more smug and condescending, and the movie’s ultimate subject is his fatuous self-satisfaction in the face of the other characters’ carefully delineated weaknesses. Not one moment in the film works the way it was plainly meant to. With Theresa Russell, Catherine Hicks, and Denholm Elliott. PG-13, 128 min.
Sidney Lumet‘s 1978 adaptation of Broadway’s all-black musical resembles Saturday Night Fever more than The Wizard of Oz. There’s the same dark disco lighting, the same romanticization of urban rubble. And the theme is no longer “There’s no place like home,” but a learning-to-love-yourself homily that might have been lifted from Werner Erhard. Still, it’s one of the more competent neomusicals of the period, if only because of Dede Allen‘s punchy editing and Tony Walton‘s cavernous sets. A lot to look at, little to contemplate, and nothing to hum. With Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, and a curiously restrained bit by Richard Pryor.