There are bad movies, and then there’s The Man Who Wasn’t There, a new film without a single redeeming feature. Movies like Flashdance and Staying Alive, which, no doubt about it, really stink up the joint, at least provide a kind of appalled fascination, and scream their availability as fodder for a good end-of-the-cinema-as-we-know-it article. Not so The Man Who Wasn’t There. It’s just plain deadening.
This junior State Department official (Steve Guttenberg) is framed for murder and gets stuck with a formula that, when ingested, turns the ingester invisible. The guy goes through some would-be adventures, finds a troo luv, and is duly surprised by a would-be surprise ending.
With a lot of movies, it takes a long time before you realize that the film is just not going to cut it. Not so with The Man Who Wasn’t There, which establishes its utter incompetence in the first incomprehensible minutes. It goes downhill from there because of a complete lack of anything resembling narrative logic. Every scene has a “conflict” that could easily be resolved by any one of the characters thinking about the problem at hand (like, Why doesn’t he just shoot the guy? or Why doesn’t he just give up the formula? or Why doesn’t he simply tell the police what the deal is when he’s caught at the murder scene?).
This is the kind of movie where you start watching the extras in the crowd scenes because it’s too excruciating to concentrate on the principals. In particular, look for a blond guy in the scene in a Washington rotunda—he’s standing behind the tour guide, and he’s making all these ridiculous faces to indicate interest, dismay, etc. Even the 3-D is cruddy—there’s no reason for the process, actually—and the cinematography itself is dirty and ugly. But the worst thing is, this is supposed to be a comedy as well as an adventure. I looked for some comedy, but couldn’t find any. But then I, fool that I am, looked for something like a movie, in any way, shape, form. It wasn’t there.
First published in The Informer, August 1983
I saw it a long time ago, and have notched many bad movies since then. But this goes high a list of the very worst. Null, void, a non-movie. Of course, it had Steve Guttenberg in it, so put that on top of everything else. Happily, the Coen brothers came along and made a movie of the same title, thus neutralizing the toxic aura around, at least, the words The Man Who Wasn’t There.