Running time: 83 mins
Director: Mark Pirro
Starring: John McCafferty, Robyn Blythe, Beano
Gameshow host Chuck Toedan (McCafferty) has it all, a hit tv show, a gaggle of young ladies throwing themselves at him and a contract out on his head. The gameshow in question is Deathrow Gameshow in which prisoners on deathrow play for a reprieve in front of an audience of millions but when a mob boss is executed on screen they recruit Luigi Pappalardo (Beano) to cancel Toedan permanently.
Pirro’s film is a step beyond what The Running Man offered up in 1987 (the same year) as it parodies the modern rise of the ridiculous TV “genre” of reality television and the sensationalist methods of marketing they adopt in an effort to gain an audience (not realising all they need for their target audience is a can of tuna and a bell). The opening twenty-five to forty minutes are excellent. Pirro’s initial concept is clear, level headed and well thought out. There are several bonafide laugh out loud moments mostly thank to McCafferty whose comedy timing is quite excellent. It poses some interesting questions about the American moral majority and what actually dictates standards all wrapped up in some short sharp laughs.
The problem comes when the film is expected to step out of the first act into the “thriller” mode as the mob set out to assassinate the mouthy gameshow host. The clarity, vision and direction from this moment is staggering in comparison, Pirro’s script is stronger as a comedy than it is a thriller and it’s disappointing as it was shaping up to be something of a gem. The drop in direction comes quickly and is actually shocking.
McCafferty, regardless of narrative issues and shortcomings, is excellent. His timing and presence on screen is strong much stronger than his CV which includes A Polish Vampire in Burbank and Nudist Colony of the Dead would suggest. Robyn Blythe as the gutsy TV correspondent Gloria Sternvirgin gives a biting performance and gives McCafferty’s Toedan not just a run for his money but also a moral disciplinarian to answer to. She even pulls up the performance level of Beano. Though saying that his performance is still short of any standard that would be considered acceptable. Mark Lasky however (who plays Beano’s mum) is fantastic. The performance is highly comical and theatrical and though incredibly entertaining doesn’t help with the transition from comedy to thriller.
Pirro’s Deathrow Gameshow is frustratingly uneven for the majority of the second and third acts. Like Rectuma which he directed some sixteen years later Pirro straddles between two genres but always tips his hat towards comedy when the narrative demands otherwise. Some great...great dialogue but it's not nearly enough.