Based on an Untrue Story Reviews
It's primo stuff, and amazingly, there's only been one attempt to parody the genre. [i]Based on an Untrue Story[/i] is itself a TV-movie, made in 1993 for FOX and starring TV-movie queen Morgan Fairchild along with an impressive array of talent in supporting roles. The results are mixed, and I've seen things on LMN that were a lot funnier, albeit unintentionally, but it's certainly a lot better than you'd expect from a movie that, well, stars Morgan Fairchild.
Fairchild plays Satin Chow, a perfume designer on the verge of breaking out with her new scent, "Puppy." Her relationship with her husband Remo (Robert Goulet) is on the rocks because, for one, Remo won't tell her what he does for a living, and for another, as Satin puts it, "Sometimes when I hear you're making love to me in your mind, I think you're making love to someone else in out bed."
When Satin gets a nosebleed at her big perfume launch, the doctor (Harvey Korman) diagnoses her with "Anosmia," which causes her to imagine that she's smelling things she isn't. She needs a transplant of nasal tissue qithin 72 hours, and when she finds out she's adopted (her parents are Asian), her boss Varda (Dyan Cannon) sends her on a trek to discover her two long-lost twin sisters seen only in a photograph when they were all babies.
Satin is joined by Varda's sons, one of whom seems to be a serial killer of topless dancers, and the other, Crack (Michael St. Gerard, from [i]Hairspray[/i]), is so dreamy that everyone he meets immediately falls for him. ("That's an unusual name," they say. "I'm an unusual man," he replies. Cue dramatic pause and music.) With the help of detective Dan Hedeya, she tracks down her two "twin" sisters--convict Velour (Ricki Lake), on death row for a series of murdres, and Corduroy (Victoria Jackson), who lives in a shack and is constantly afraid that her children will be kidnapped.
The references to TV-movie cliches and real life news drama run fast and furious, ranging from Pamela Smart* to white slavery to sex changes to [i]I Know My First Name is Steven[/i] to a little girl falling down a well, and it's rarely less than entertaining for fans of trashy melodrama. The problem is that, while it's fun, it's not always that funny. Fairchild is fine, and much of the supporting cast hits the right notes, but Harvey Korman overracts like he's still on The Carol Burnett Show and Ricky Lake never comes off as sleazy as she should. (Casting from John Waters movies was the right idea, though--however, the part is more of a Traci Lords role.)
The screenplay by "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" writer George McGrath is uneven as well. Sure, lots of the jokes are funny and some of the dialogue could easily make it into a lower-lever Marx Brothers film, but other gags are repeated endlessly when they weren't funny the first time. Can't get enough of Fairchild mispronouncing Hedaya's character's name? Great, as it happens about a dozen times. David Letterman can make this sort of "repeat-something-unfunny-until-it's-funny" thing work, but director Jim Drake, a TV veteran, isn't up to the task. In fact, much of the time, it seems as though he's pacing it for a laugh track, rendering some of McGrath's dialogue less funny because it's not delivered as straight-faced as it's supposed to be.
Still, the jokes that do work work really well, like a [i]Psycho[/i] reference that, for once, is actually funny. Much of the cast seems to be having a great time, especially Cannon, who chews the scenery with such effortless bliss that you wish she'd get to do comedy more often. Sure, there are plenty of bits that will make you groan, but you can't really hate a movie that can justify lines like "What sort of life is it for a person running around smelling veal that isn't even there?" or "You're not hard and cold... you're plush and cozy!"
It's not brilliant, but [i]Based on an Untrue Story[/i] is certainly a worthy way to spend an hour and a half, especially if you're a trashy TV-movie buff like myself. The [i]Airplaine![/i] of TV-movies hasn't been made yet, but in the meantime, this will do just fine. It's certainly the best thing Morgan Fairchild's ever been in, at least after [i]Freaked[/i].
(Watch for a pre-"Talk Soup" Greg Kinnear as a reporter, character actress Pat Crawford Brown as a judge and Firesign Theater regular Phil Proctor as an anchorman.)
[size=1]* -- Pamela Smart is the teacher who had an affair with one of her students and convinced him to kill her husband. Interestingly, in the TV-movie based on the case, Murder in New Hampshire, the student is played by TV kid Chad Allen ("Our House," "St. Elsewhere"), where in this film, he's played by TV kid Jeremy Miller ("Growing Pains").[/size]