Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Alarmist

By Steve Davis

NOVEMBER 30, 1998: 

D: Evan Dunsky; with David Arquette, Stanley Tucci, Kate Capshaw, Mary McCormack, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Learned, Lewis Arquette. (Not Rated, 93 min.)

David Arquette has two basic facial expressions in The Alarmist: a wince, followed by a panicked grimace. It's a limited acting approach oddly fitting for the role of Thomas Hudler, a neophyte salesman wandering Candide-like in the world of home-security systems in Southern California. But while Arquette's man-boy charm has its goofy appeal, The Alarmist has little to no appeal at all. In fact, it's a near-pointless movie. A wannabe in today's hip-and-edgy movie genre, the most subversive thing about The Alarmist is that Arquette wears a suit and tie throughout the movie, something that the wild-man actor probably found excruciating. Its attempts at black comedy are weak; indeed, you could hardly color them gray. There's an elderly couple with a gun arsenal, a teenaged boy's sexually explicit account of having sex with his girlfriend that comes out of nowhere, and even Learned (television's maternal icon) in a cameo as Arquette's hausfrau mother, but none of it provokes much more than a chuckle. (The fact that the film is based on a stage production -- something called Life During Wartime -- is puzzling. There's a play in here somewhere?) The film's romantic angle, in the form of a May-December romance between Arquette and Capshaw (a dead ringer for Judy Davis here), isn't developed very well, although an aborted tryst in the kitchen -- while she's standing on a stool changing a light bulb -- briefly promises something wild and crazy. It's not clear whether she's really in love with him, or just entranced by his more youthful sex drive. Perhaps the greatest sin of The Alarmist is its complete waste of Tucci in the role of Heinreich Grigoris, Hudler's paternal but unscrupulous mentor. Tucci never takes off; it's a stillborn performance. Maybe if Tucci had found something with which to work, the movie in turn might have found the center it so badly needs. As it is, The Alarmist is a movie that doesn't ring any bells.
1.0 stars


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