See, kids? This is what happens when you don't brush.
We all want to change something about ourselves. Some of us want to be taller, or have more hair, or better eyesight. The biggest change people want to make, especially in regards to Americans, is losing weight. Whether it's genetic, or a glandular problem, or a love of deep-fried anything, obesity is a big problem in the United States. There is an entire industry dedicated to weight loss. We have gyms, exercise videos, at-home workout machines, fancy diets, and even pills all claiming to help people lose weight. But what if you start to lose weight through no effort and can't stop? The supposed blessing can become a curse. A gypsy curse, to be specific.
Thinner is a 1996 horror movie based off the novel of the same name by Stephen King (Misery, Children Of The Corn). The film stars Robert John Burke (Rescue Me, Dust Devil) as Billy Halleck, a wealthy, morbidly obese lawyer who lives in a nice house in Maine with his wife and daughter. Billy has just won a case defending a criminal boss named Richie “The Hammer” Ginell (Joe Mantegna, The Simpsons, Three Amigos) and goes out to celebrate with his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney, GI Jane, S.W.A.T.). A group have gypsies have come into town, much to the disgust of Billy's friend, Judge Cary Rossington (John Horton, Donnie Brasco, The Shawshank Redemption) On the way home from dinner, Heidi performs oral sex on Billy while he is driving. The distraction causes Billy to not see an old Gypsy woman crossing the road, hitting and killing her. Through his connections with Judge Rossington and police Chief Duncan Hopley (Daniel von Bargen, Seinfeld, Lord of Illusions), Billy is not charged with any crime. Outraged at the injustice, Tadzu Lempke, the father of the dead woman, touches Billy's face and says “Thinner.” Soon, Billy starts to lose weight, despite continuously eating whatever he wants. The weight loss continues at an alarming rate forcing Billy to go see Dr. Mike Houston (Sam Freed). Dr. Mikey, as Billy refers to him, cannot find anything wrong and sends him to a special clinic. They also cannot find out what is wrong as Billy gets thinner and thinner. He also suspects that Heidi and Dr. Mikey are having an affair. Billy discovers that Judge Rossington and Chief Hopley have also been cursed by the gypsy with Rossington turning into some sort of lizard creature and Hopley becoming covered in leprosy-like sores. Billy's weight drops dangerously low as he goes in search of the gypsies. When he finds them, he asks Tadzu to take off the curse. When he refuses and is hurt by one of the gypsies, Billy puts his own curse, the Curse of the White Man From town, on the gypsies. He reaches out to Richie to help him get the curse taken off. What will Richie do and will Billy survive?
1, 2, 3, 4: I declare a thumb war.
On paper, I can see how Thinner would be an interesting and exciting read. There are many different elements in the story that work well in the written word. The movie has some good social commentary, such as body image, racism, and obsession. Sadly, these topics are lightly touched-upon instead of at the forefront of the movie. The problem with Thinner is that since Stephen King tends to get very wordy with long novels, certain plot points need to be skipped over for a feature-length movie. For whatever reason, Thinner doesn't do that and tries to cram in as many things as possible. With a run time of 92 minutes, the movie feels incredibly long just because so much is happening at such a fast pace. I was actually surprised to see the length of the movie as it felt like a marathon to get through. Sometimes horror movies feel long because they are too slow. Thinner feels long because there is so much happening that you can't concentrate on one scene for too long or you'll miss something. Plenty of little things could have been cut out or at least replaced with longer scenes or better horror. The movie is not scary with only a psychological creepiness to focus on.
Robert John Burke plays Billy very well, going from jolly fat man to a withered skeleton trying to survive. Joe Mantegna is wildly over-the-top, but in a good way. He is essentially Fat Tony from The Simpsons with an extra dash of crazy. I couldn't help but wonder why, if Richie is a big underworld boss, he would get directly involved fighting the gypsies. You would think he'd have some goons do his dirty work for him. That question is half-heartedly answered, but it wasn't a good enough answer for me. Lucinda Jenney comes off as a bit too forced for my liking. I suppose we're not supposed to like her, but I was more annoyed at her than anything else. The makeup used on Burke is excellent, ranging from a believable fat suit to a pale, walking cadaver. You really believe that he is going to die by the end. Speaking of the end, it reminded me too much of a Goosebumps-style ending and was pretty cheesy for a Stephen King movie. Again, words on a paper were probably more effective than on the screen.
Thinner is an example of how a good story doesn't always translate into a good movie. The story is simple, but enjoyable with a fair amount of intrigue and excitement. It is a race against the clock with a supernatural bent. There is not much horror to speak of, which was a disappointment. The movie tries to cram in way too much and feels far longer than an hour and a half. Robert John Burke and Joe Mantegna are very entertaining and help keep the moving rolling. There is even a funny cameo appearance in the movie by King himself. While not horrifically bad, Thinner is not Stephen King's best movie. It does have entertaining qualities, but just doesn't have that special King horror quality that so many of his other movies possess.