Modern Problems (1981) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for language, sexual humor, crude humor, and brief nudity (probably PG-13 today)
Running Time: 89 min.


Cast: Chevy Chase, Patti D'Arbanville, Dabney Coleman, Brian Doyle Murray, Mary Kay Place, Nell Carter, Mitch Kreindel
Director: Ken Shapiro
Screenplay: Ken Shapiro, Tom Sherohman, Arthur Sellers
Review published June 6, 2005

I'm wondering if the creators of Modern Problems thought that Chevy Chase (Caddyshack, Foul Play) could ad-lib enough laughs to save this dud from falling apart, and that they didn't just film without a script save to set up the premise of each scene and let the actors do what they can.  Probably not, but if they had, it probably wouldn't have made the film seem any less desperate for laughs, as almost everyone involved looks like they'd rather not be in the movie.  Worst of all is Chevy Chase himself, as he looks like he would rather just go to sleep than act, and who can blame him?  Modern Problems has a potentially funny premise and completely runs out of inspiration only two scenes after it is introduced.

Chevy plays an air traffic controller named Max, who is on the verge of suffering a life crisis when his girlfriend ends up leaving him.  Things change in Max's favor when a truck hauling nuclear waste spills all over his car, causing him to receive new powers, including telekinesis, whereby he can control the movement of object using only his mind.  With these powers, Max begins an attempt to rekindle his relationship with his girlfriend, making the lives of any would-be suitors hell should they get too close.

The first half of this misfire is passable stuff, continuing to offer up Chevy Chase as a would-be romantic lead.  The nuclear waste angle throws a bit of a curveball, and does set up a couple of funny moments where Max, overcome with jealousy, tries to cut out his girlfriend's most prominent suitor from the competition.  Sadly, once that angle is done, so is the movie, although the script by writer-director Ken Shapiro thinks there is more comedic gold to be mined if he can pit Max against the ultimate jackass of an author, Mark (Dabney Coleman, 9 to 5), who also has a thing for Max's girl. 

Modern Problems is a half-baked idea for a movie that is almost indigestible for even big fans of Chase.  The look of the film is ugly, as is the comedic tone throughout.  Eccentric characters and interesting situations are tossed in, but almost nothing is ever done with any of them.  The last half of the film, particularly when Chevy goes into "Exorcist" mode, is particularly repulsive.   The mercifully short running length is its greatest asset.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo