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Saturday, July 23, 2016

THE RATINGS GAME -- DVD Review by Porfle

The best reason to watch the Showtime original movie THE RATINGS GAME (1984, Olive Films), which is directed by and starring Danny DeVito and his wife Rhea Perlman, is if you have a really big nostalgia jones for the 80s, and specifically bad 80s television.  Because not only does this film spoof bad 80s television, it IS bad 80s television.

DeVito plays feisty New Jersey trucking magnate Vic De Salvo, who has just set up shop in Hollywood so that he can realize his dream of pawning one of his awful TV show ideas off on some gullible producer. 

When evil MBC network programmer Parker Braithwaite (Gerrit Graham) fires one of his longtime executives, the spurned employee gets revenge on his way out by putting Vic's terrible pilot script for a smutty "Three's Company"-style sitcom called "Sittin' Pretty" into production. 

Meanwhile, Vic's budding romance with Francine Kester (Rhea Perlman), who works for a Nielsen-like network ratings service, yields big-time rewards when he persuades her to use her position to make sure "Sittin' Pretty" gets monster ratings. 

Vic does his part by getting 200 families whose TV choices are monitored to disappear for several weeks by basically kidnapping them onto a fake sea cruise, then hiring a bunch of goombas to break into their houses and watch his programs on their TVs. 

This premise sounds promising, but THE RATINGS GAME seems off in every department.  Not only is the script by Jim Mulholland and Michael Barrie, who gave us AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON, about as bland as anything I've ever seen, but the leaden direction and performances--not to mention an awkward musical score--fail to inject much life into it.

Hard to believe this is the same DeVito who would go on to direct the biting WAR OF THE ROSES and the raucous THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN.  Despite his endless mugging, sequences such as the taping of his sitcom pilot before a live audience and the chaos that erupts during a climactic TV awards show where he's chased down by the police for fraud just seem to sit there.   

Even the chemistry between Danny and real-life wife Rhea Perlman is lacking.  The rest of the cast are unable to overcome the dull script, especially less comedy-savvy players such as Joe Santos (THE LAST BOY SCOUT) and Frank Sivero (GOODFELLAS), while venerable stars Kevin McCarthy, Barry Corbin, and Ronny Graham manage to add some zing to their scenes.  Vincent Schiavelli, bless his heart, is required to queen it up as the resident unfunny gay stereotype.

The movie comes to life when DeVito stages some wickedly funny mock promos for upcoming fall season premieres including some of the really bad shows that Vic has conned the network into green-lighting.  There's also some "spot the familiar face" fun with cameos from Bowery Boys alumnus Huntz Hall, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows, George Wendt, Randi Brooks, Schiavelli's wife Allyce Beasley ("Moonlighting"), Jason Hervey, Lainie Kazan (in a deleted scene), Army Archerd, John Megna (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD's "Dill"), Michael Richards, and, very briefly, a pre-stardom Jerry Seinfeld. 

The DVD from Olive Films is in 1.33:1 widescreen with 2.0 sound and subtitles in English.  Extras consist of a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, a Showtime trailer, and a collection of four short films directed by Danny DeVito.  Also included is a terrific 28-page collector's booklet with liner notes and art from the film. 

THE RATINGS GAME appears to have amassed a generous amount of glowing reviews from reputable publications, including some genuine raves.  So clearly my less-than-enthusiastic reaction to it should hardly be taken as the final word on the subject.  I only wish that I'd enjoyed watching it as much as Danny DeVito seems to have enjoyed making it.

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