directed by Tom Holland
(Paramount, 1996)

Stephen King's Thinner is famous for one thing, and it's not this motion picture adaptation. Thinner was the fifth novel released under King's Richard Bachman pseudonym, and its relative success on its own (along with a few tell-tale clues in the text itself) lifted the veil on what was already basically an open secret to reveal none other than Stephen King to be the actual writer.

If Thinner had been one of King's better novels, he would not have released it as Bachman; thus, the movie has little chance of becoming a classic or universal crowd-pleaser. The main problem with this whole story is in fact one of thinness; unlike the main character, who enters the arena rather hugely and soon wastes away to nothing, the storyline starts out thin and basically remains that way. Thinner just doesn't have the feel a Stephen King movie (or novel) should have; very little of consequence happens outside the tight strictures of the basic plotline; none of the characters seems to bring any life to what they are doing, and no one besides the young daughter is even remotely likable. Depth of character and the inherently interesting relationships between seemingly real individuals make up one of the greatest strength's driving King's creations; oftentimes, movie adaptations fail to capture this important magic and, predictably, prove somewhat disappointing. In the case of Thinner, such depth was never there to begin with.

Thinner is about as straightforward a plot as you will ever get from King. Billy Halleck, an obese, morally ambivalent lawyer accidentally (with some help from his unsavory wife) runs over an old gypsy woman. His friendship with the chief of police and presiding judge allows him to walk away scot-free, a fact which obviously annoys the victim's 106-year-old father. This gypsy king places a curse upon the men who killed and then covered up the death of his daughter.

Billy's curse comes down to one word, "thinner." He quickly finds himself losing weight, which seems to be a blessing -- at first. It doesn't take him long to figure out, though, that he is dropping two to four pounds a day regardless of how much food he throws down his throat. When he sees the effect of the gypsy curse on his two friends, reality hits him like a great big frying pan. As his fear and paranoia increase exponentially, he grows distrustful of his own wife, who truly is just a little too friendly to his basically unhelpful doctor. In desperation, having failed to convince the gypsy to release his curse, Billy turns to one of his shady clients, using him to implement his own "white man's curse" on the gypsy king and his thoroughly despicable granddaughter. The ending of the movie differs slightly from King's original ending, but it comes off rather well.

All in all, this is a perfectly good movie that really doesn't even aspire to anything greater than what it is. King makes another memorable appearance as the town pharmacist, and that is pretty much the highlight of the whole film for me. If you are some kind of fanatic about movie makeup, though, maybe Thinner has a little more to offer you than it does me. Taking a character from 300 pounds to 128 pounds in a matter of several weeks is not something you just do off the cuff. Thus, the evolution of Robert John Burke's makeup becomes almost distracting as the movie progresses. This is really beaten into your head listening to the commentary by director Tom Holland and actor Joe Mantegna. Each stage of the makeup job is addressed, and I really don't care how many layers of latex the guy has on at any point or how that little bit of flaking and almost imperceptible sliding works and doesn't work, etc. I don't often listen to movie commentaries to know how they normally go, but this one seems to point out too many little problems, editing mistakes, and budget-deprived inadequacies in the film. Take my advice -- don't listen to the commentary's litany of problems, just watch the film and try to find what little successes it provides. Again, I'm not saying this is a bad movie; when it's over, though, you just kind of shrug your shoulders and go on as it immediately begins to fade from your memory.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 30 August 2003

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