Robert John Burke plays an obese lawyer and family man who has just helped get mobster Joe Mantegna off an attempted murder charge. On his way home, he inadvertently knocks over and kills a gypsy woman crossing the street. Let’s just say his wife was busy relieving his stress and he got a little distracted. His police officer and judge pals manage to help get rid of the matter, which greatly upsets the gypsy woman’s bitter elderly father (Michael Constantine). He puts a curse on Burke, making him rapidly lose weight. A man who once concerned his wife (Lucinda Jenney) with his dangerously unhealthy girth is now dropping pants sizes in record time. At first he feels wonderful, like a new man, and can eat like a pig without losing weight. However, as he starts to become seriously emaciated, and when both the judge and the cop also find themselves afflicted with curses of their own, Burke starts to wonder how he can get rid of this curse before it’s too late. Kari Wuhrer plays a sexy gypsy chick, in a small turn.
Released to little notice or interest in 1996, this film from director/co-writer Tom Holland (“Child’s Play”) isn’t among the best films based on the work of Stephen King (“Stand By Me”, “The Dead Zone”, “The Shining”, “Misery”, “The Running Man”). However, it’s also nowhere near the bottom of the pack (“Sleepwalkers”, “Maximum Overdrive”, “Graveyard Shift”, “Children of the Corn”) either, and I found it an interesting and offbeat story. The fact that it neither falls in with the horror stories nor the dramas in King’s oeuvre might have contributed to it not doing so well and being subsequently forgotten. I kinda liked it, though.
Chief among its assets are the convincing performance by Robert John Burke and the terrific makeup by Greg Cannom (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), whose work is vastly superior to Rick Baker’s overrated, rubbery and exaggerated work on the “Nutty Professor” films. Many seem to disagree with me on this, but in my opinion, Cannom keeps things as realistic as possible and the film is all the better for it. The physical transformation is masterfully done. The underrated Burke, meanwhile, is no stranger to acting under physical restraints (having previously replaced Peter Weller in the suit for “Robocop 3” and later having beastly makeup in Hal Hartley’s awful “No Such Thing”), and manages to give a persuasive performance under trying circumstances. He doesn’t play an especially admirable person, especially towards the end (where the curse and personal dramas start to plague him), but Burke makes the character as likeable and sympathetic as possible. Kari Wuhrer is sexy as hell as a gypsy woman, and Joe Mantegna effortlessly threatens to steal the entire film as a genial mobster, but Michael Constantine overdoes it as a gypsy version of Lo Pan, basically.
Co-written by Michael McDowell (“Beetlejuice”), my main problem with the story, and it’s probably King’s fault, is that I didn’t quite understand why getting thinner was so bad for this particular guy. He’s already expressed regret over his obvious heft, and losing weight would be good for him. Sure, it ends up going too far in a ‘be careful what you wish for’ kind of thing, but why not make it “Fatter”? I never quite understood that from a moralistic perspective, because he gets cursed ‘thinner’ when he actually does need to get thinner. Make him get even fatter as a curse, it would be even worse for him then, you’d think. But that’s not a huge issue (pardon the pun) at the end of the day, nor is the somewhat clunky ending.
It’s an interesting and offbeat film, if hard to pigeon-hole. I certainly think it’s worth a look if you’ve thus far missed it. Far better than its reputation suggests at any rate and it has a nice, dark sense of humour.