Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Thought Canadian TV Sucked Only When They Played American Shows: "The Hijacking of Studio 4" (1985)

This little seen Canadian effort was shot on videotape, and tries to mix the satire and suspense of "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Network." Instead, it achieves all the tension of a stale marshmallow.

John Schrader (Jack Zimmerman) is an older man with a big chip on his shoulder. He lost his favorite son in a car accident, and is estranged from his wife and daughter. The daughter lives on the Caribbean island of Kanzaal, and is arrested after trying to help a knife wielding boy she accidentally ran over (in the film's big silly action set piece).

The prime minister of Kanzaal, Yudi Ahshi (Hadley Sandiford), happens to be visiting Schrader's Canadian town, and Schrader decides to take action. He meets with local hotshot reporter Paul Adams (Phil Rash), and arranges an on camera ambush of the prime minister with some documents that show the politician is corrupt.

What Paul does not know is that Schrader is also packing a pistol and a briefcase bomb. Schrader then takes over the television studio and show, and a live feed of the events goes out to the three or four Hamilton, Canada residents who happen to tune in to their local news to watch. The police are called in, led by Detective Richmond (Bill Boyle), and you will kick your shoes off and chew on your toenails as the film's momentum climbs to Hitchcockian heights...yeah, okay.

Shot in 1985, writer/director Gaudet starts things off in a bad way. I do not know if it was a teaser, an artistic statement, or what, but we see a couple of minutes of Schrader taking over the show, and then cut to Schrader's daughter getting arrested. I had no idea what was going on, as the clip from the opening of the film is then played again during the "hijacking". After Schrader's daughter's arrest, we go through the excruciatingly boring sequences of Schrader coming up with his mildly nefarious plan and acting on it. Try to contain your screams during the fast paced "photocopying incriminating documents" scene.

The film is top heavy with minor characters who Gaudet feels we should know more about. We have the jerk talk show host, the equally jerky TV director, the uber jerky network brass, assorted technical employees, the prime minister's staff, the detective and his partner, etc. I haven't seen a cast this big since my last Cecil B. DeMille epic. It does not help that our first glimpse of the prime minister reminded me of the Notorious B.I.G., and I began wondering if Canada had ever heard of a S.W.A.T. team. Since the film was shot on video with 1980's technology, it has the production value of porn from that era, but with nary a nipple or scrotum to be seen. Nudity would have helped.

"The Hijacking of Studio 4" is a lame attempt at sermonizing about the evils of television and corruption. The only point it makes is that it should not appear on your television any time soon. (*) out of five stars.