Saturday, October 6, 2012

Homelessness...What's Up With That?: "Original Intent" (1992)



This film wears its heart on its sleeve. It is against homelessness. So sit back and enjoy it, you greedy unfeeling bastard with your big screen television and giant cups of gourmet coffee.

Matthew (Jay Richardson) and wife Jessica (an uncharacteristically terrible Candy Clark) are a power couple with two bratty children and a live-in maid. Matthew is a lawyer, Jessica is in the advertising game, and they cruise around in imported cars and live the shallow life. Matthew's college buddy Alex (Kurt Fuller, sadly trying to be all nutty and impulsive) is a homeless-persons advocate. He asks Matthew to look into a case.

Ben (Robert Doqui) runs a homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles populated by actors like Martin Sheen, Kris Kristofferson, and Cindy Pickett performing in bit parts and cameos. The evil landlord Daniels (Vince Edwards, elevated to 'small supporting role') wants to close the place down, and Ben and Alex ask Matthew for legal advice. The timing could not be any more perfect since Matthew happens to be suffering a midlife crisis and wants to inject some meaning into his existence.

You would think things would start working out for poor Matthew, but the opposite happens. By unbelievable coincidence, Jessica's agency is handling Daniels' big toy store chain account. Matthew's law partner is getting impatient with the unpaid time spent on the new case, and Matthew is always late picking up his whiny son from baseball practice. Matthew tries to be nice to troubled youth Bobby (Patrick Malone), but this kindness ends up backfiring. Finally, Matthew must choose between his conscience and his familial obligations, and a silly tragedy limps along just in time for him to make his decision.

No, I am not making light of homelessness. This film is almost twenty years old and the problem still persists. I am making light of this film's sincere but hopelessly abysmal tackle of the problem. This is the kind of movie safe enough to play in church basements (I counted less than ten minor curse words) before taking up a collection to help the homeless. Beating the viewer into submission with this one issue means other causes like mental illness, alcoholism, lack of education, high medical costs, and more, are merely hinted at.

Richardson is average as Matthew, his most memorable scene is his speech in the judge's (Joe Campanella, they're ready for your cameo) chambers where Richardson does a hilarious dead-on impression of Jimmy Stewart, something he surely did not intend. The cameos and bit parts detract immensely- why look who's at the party, it's Bruce Jenner and Linda Thompson! Most grating is the terrible music score and sappy uncredited songs that drown out onscreen dialogue.

I am sure the original intent of "Original Intent" was to expose the gaping wound that is homelessness in America. Instead, we get preachy nonsense wrapped in deadly dull speechifying. Want to help out? The film makers give you no ideas except be careful who you invite to the house for the weekend, and be sure to hate your local big evil corporation (ironic, since this was distributed on VHS by the mom and pop operation Paramount Home Video).

What we are given plays like a failed television series pilot for the Hallmark Channel. I half listened for an announcer to tell me that next week Matthew must choose between going to his daughter's ballet recital or carpooling AIDS-infected crack babies to the free clinic.

The film makers bit off much more than they could chew, playing the guilt card and whining instead of actually educating the viewer and compelling them to do something. (*) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Original Intent