Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Alarmed: "The Alarmist" (1998)

David Arquette is a young and naive home security alarm salesman taken under the wing of Stanley Tucci.

Arquette is a golden boy, scoring a big sale on his first call- to widow Kate Capshaw and her dopey son Ryan Reynolds. Things are going well for Arquette, he is appearing in commercials for the security firm and he is falling in love with Capshaw.

Then Tucci and his right hand woman Mary McCormack let him in on a little secret- they sometimes break into the houses of their clients in order to scare them and to get their neighbors to buy security systems from the firm. Arquette decides not to get involved, taking Capshaw to meet his family, and going through life with a goofy smile on his face. Something happens that drives Arquette over the edge, and the climax has him holding a gun to his boss' head.

Based on a stage play, "The Alarmist" is not opened up well. The scenes where Arquette takes the Capshaw to meet his parents are badly played and completely unfunny. They are also out of line with the character Capshaw is playing, as she gets drunk and tells sexually explicit stories to Arquette's mom Michael Learned. Other than these scenes, Capshaw is not given much to do, but she does a lot with the little she is given.

Stanley Tucci, looking just like Terry O'Quinn, is a riot as the security firm owner. He is a creep who really does not understand Arquette's moral revulsion. However, when he turns into a sniveling whiner after Arquette kidnaps him, he is hilarious. Mary McCormack seems to have been groomed for a bigger role, but she mostly stands around and agrees with Tucci. Ryan Reynolds is too old to play a dumb teenager, but he is funny, especially telling his own explicit sexual story to Arquette.

The screenplay lurches from romantic comedy to dark comedy too soon. Capshaw meeting the parents is completely unmotivated, except to give her a reason to get out of town so someone can break into her house. Capshaw and Reynolds are in the film just to give Arquette a reason to take revenge on Tucci.

Arquette, who has proven he is a good bad actor, is awful here. He relies on the constipated mugging that got him through those AT&T ads, and he is not a strong enough presence to build this weak film around. Actually, Reynolds might have been a better choice in the role. Dunsky's direction is good, nothing that will win an Oscar soon. Christophe Beck's light jazzy score recalls the type of film noir this film tries to be, and it is really catchy on top of that.

Despite the pluses, Arquette's failure as a lead and the script's schizophrenic quality sinks "The Alarmist." I do not recommend it. (* *) out of five stars.