June 8, 2019

Matinee (1993)
Grade: 62/100

Director: Joe Dante
Stars: John Goodman, Simon Fenton, Kellie Martin

What it's about. Set in Key West, Florida, during the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis. Gene (Simon Fenton) is a tweener with a stereotypical younger brother (Jesse Lee Soffer) and a stereotypical mother (Lucinda Jenney). Gene is friends with Stan (Omri Katz). Gene's dad is ever offscreen, on a Navy boat enforcing Kennedy's blockade of Cuba.

Because it is a movie, Gene is romantically paired with nonconformist Sandra (Lisa Jakub). Stan pursues Sherry (Kellie Martin), whose flirtatious behavior frustrates her hoodlum ex-boyfriend, Harvey (James Villemaire).

While the teen romances play out toward inevitably happy endings (Matinee is a comedy), the film's other subplot is developed. B-movie horror impresario Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) is coming to Key West with his jaded girlfriend and leading lady Ruth (Cathy Moriarty) to promote his new feature, Mant. Woolsey's shenanigans put him at odds with theater manager Howard (Robert Picardo), but please chain-smoking theater chain owner Spector (Jesse White).

Mant, the film within the film, is a parody of pre-Beatles cheap black-and-white horror flicks. Bill (Mark McCracken) has been exposed to radiation and is turning into a giant ant. His wife (Cathy Moriarty) is surprisingly understanding. Doctor Grabow (William Schallert) is no help at all. Scientist Flankon (Robert Cornthwaite) is there to explain the pseudo-science, and General Ankrum (Kevin McCarthy) attempts to stop Bill the Mant Monster.

How others will see it. Despite a trendy teen cast (Jakub's next film was Mrs. Doubtfire, Martin was the lead in the ABC series "Life Goes On") and a popular star (Goodman) in the lead, Matinee stiffed at the box office. It drew mixed reviews and was mostly ignored by the festival circuit.

Today at imdb.com, the film has a modest 8.5K user votes and an okay-plus user rating of 6.8 out of 10. Young males grade the movie highest (7.3) and older women grade it the lowest (6.6). Adult women are presumably put off by the perils that the female cast faces (two are kidnapped by Villemaire, whose character is a role-model of infamous Nebraska mass-murderer Charles Starkweather) and an indifference to the cheesy Mant.

The user reviews, though, are predominantly positive. They appreciate the nostalgia, no matter how exaggerated, and tolerate the teen romance subplots. The film has a decent cult following, mostly from those who saw it during its initial run a quarter-century ago.

How I felt about it. Matinee is well written and well cast. John Goodman, in particular, is ideal as showman Woolsey. Teen leads Fenton and Katz are likable but boring, because their characters are overly bland. Harvey, the young antagonist torn between beatnik and criminal impulses, needs to be more menacing despite Dante's vision of Matinee as a knowing wink to an audience hopefully familiar with (and receptive to) schlocky features from the William Castle and Roger Corman era.

The showing of Mant becomes increasingly preposterous, culminating in the rescue of Dennis the Menace from a collapsing balcony by his older brother with no help from adults.

The scenes from Mant are amusing, but I prefer the other film within a film, The Shook Up Shopping Cart, which trolls the lame G-rated movies of the era that had greater appeal to housewife mothers than their restless children.