Tuesday, October 16, 2012

WKRAP in Chicago: "Straight Talk" (1992)

The basic plot for "Straight Talk" could have been borrowed from any 1930's screwball comedy, but it is too bad the film makers do not seem to realize this. They simply rest the bulk of the film on Dolly Parton's shoulders and hope her goodwill and likability will carry the rest...it doesn't.

Shirlee (Dolly Parton) is a bright, honest woman from a dying town in Arkansas. She becomes a national radio call-in show icon in the span of a couple of weeks. Shirlee leaves her loser live-in boyfriend, Steve (Michael Madsen) and moves to Chicago. She cannot find a job, until she is mistaken for a psychiatrist and put on the air live to take phone calls from people with problems. She is an instant hit, and reporter Jack (James Woods) begins looking into her background and falling in love with her at the same time.

Parton is good, and has tons of screen presence. However, the casting is so out of whack, the few scenes she is not in play like a Quentin Tarantino film, i.e. the bar scene between Woods and Madsen. Woods is miscast in a role that would have gone to Cary Grant back in the day. He tries to be light and funny, but he is still James Woods, and his performance comes off badly. Check out the rest of the supporting cast: Griffin Dunne, Teri Hatcher, Spalding Gray, Jerry Orbach, Charles Fleischer, Philip Bosco, Jay Thomas, and John Sayles. Just a couple of names stick out as comedic possible actors, yet they are all cast in this bit of fluff.

Any fan of "WKRP in Cincinnati," will find the subplot of Shirlee's advice doing damage familiar. "Frasier" fans might also be a little bored with the magic of radio and call-in shows. The script is television level material, embarrassingly wrapped up at the end where everyone lives happily ever after and no one has a worry in the world. This may have worked with Doris Day and Cary Grant in the leads, but with Parton and Woods the denouement feels fake and forced. Take away the profanity peppered throughout, and a pointless scene about Shirlee losing her virginity, and "Straight Talk" might have worked if done in the spirit of the recent "Down With Love."

There have been tons of better radio themed films made over the years. "Straight Talk" suffers from old material performed by the wrong cast some thirty years too late. Time to turn the channel. (* *) out of five stars.