Last night saw the broadcast of the 84th Academy Awards, with The Artist taking home the Oscar for Best Picture. Whether The Artist goes on to become a cinematic classic, or an underserved winner of one of cinema’s most prestigious awards is neither here nor there. History will decide whether it becomes just as admired and written about as say, Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), which also won an Oscar for Best Picture, and has since gone on to become one of the most loved and referenced films of all time. But since a review of Casablanca can already be found in this past article here, why don’t we instead look at one of the many movies whose creation it went on to inspire so that we might know what the future holds for The Artist.
Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (1983) is a made-for-television movie, as opposed to a made-for-entertainment movie, or a made-for-the-betterment-of-mankind movie. Yes, all that can be accurately said about Overdrawn was that it was made to be seen on a television set. The film stars the late Raul Julia as Aram Fingal, an intelligent but bored computer programmer who works for Novicorp, an ostentatiously evil mega-corporation that exists somewhere in the future where art and movies has been outlawed for no adequately explored reason. One day, after he is caught watching Casablanca at his workstation, Fingal is required to undergo a rehabilitation therapy wherein his mind is transferred into the body of an animal for a new outlook on life (which is fine with Fingal just as long as he’s not put into a lousy, stinkin’ anteater!).
After Fingal’s body is accidently misplaced during the mind swap, his ill-defined consciousness is temporarily transferred into a computer until his body is located. His only chance for rescue is Computech Apollonia James (Linda Griffiths) — a woman whose obviously made up job-title is even more ridiculous sounding then her obviously made up name — and who helps Fingal to reprogram himself into a simulation of Casablanca (with himself playing Rick) from which he slowly unravels some secrets about Novicorp’s financial records, and decides to bring the company down from the inside (quite literally!)
If there is one lesson to be taken away from Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, it’s this: never put scenes from a better movie into your own crappy movie since such scenes only highlight just how much crappier you’re movie is by comparison. Now then: Where to start, where to begin with Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.
Visually the movie is about as aesthetically pleasing as a unenthusiastically concealed murder victim. Shot on video-tape and subjected to extensive use of chrome key and blue screen special effects, the movie looks like an something a freshman film student shot for his Intro to Film Production Class than a professionally made movie. The set-designs are also quite hideous, with the filmmakers evidently deciding that “the new mall down the street” was what the entire planet was going to look like in the future, which isn’t a huge problem except that the mall’s — sorry, Novicorp’s interiors — are so bland and uninspiring that you immediately forget what the place looks like after the movie is over.
Raul Julia’s presence in this film is a bit incongruous. After all, the man did have some legitimate talent, and even managed to star in a few films that — unlike this one — wasn’t the intellectual equivalent of a fart in the wind. More likely than not, the story simply looked better on paper than it turned out in practice (after all, IMDB’s Bottom 100 is filled with movies that, on paper at least, look like they could be amazing if only they had better actors or directors). Truly, the only acting faux pas that Julia makes is trying to play Bogart’s Rick Blaine. Though Julia was a talented actor in his own right, Humphrey Bogart was Rick Blaine, and any actor would’ve looked terrible trying to usurp one of Humphrey’s most famous characters.
But while Julia manages to offer an entertaining, if somewhat mediocre performance, the same cannot be said about his fellow actors, all of whom “ham it up” so badly that you can practically smell bacon while watching this turkey of film. Donald Moore, credited as “the Novicorp Chairman/the Fat Man”, chews the most scenery out of all the secondary actors, though its Linda Griffiths, playing Aram’s love interest Apollonia, who proves to be the most aggravating of the supporting cast. As bad as Moore’s ham-acting is, at least its memorable and occasionally enjoyable. Griffiths acting is so bland and reserved that once the film ends, one struggles to remember any of her scenes, or even what she looks like. She makes less of an impression than the scenery!
But even worse than the subpar acting and cheap special effects is how unbelievable dull the film turns out to be. Honestly, you’d think it would hard to make a movie whose plot involves “mind-swapping”, “simulated reality”, and other interesting concepts boring, but director Douglas Williams defies the odds and gives us a film that’s a better sleeping aid than a bottle of Rohypnol. Part of the problem is that the plot is too convoluted and ill-defined to maintain our attention, but mostly it’s the total lack of energy from the cast and the uneven rhythm in the story’s plotting that makes the movie too sluggish and patchy to be enjoyed on any level other than ironically.
With its’ less than stellar cast, cheap effects, confusing plot, and inexplicable anti-Anteater bias (seriously, there’s like three or four jokes about how much people hate those things), Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is proof that great and near-perfect movies are more likely to inspire pale imitators and boring derivatives than equally beautiful works of cinematic art. With this mind, be warned. Some future Douglas Williams is not doubt out there, and having seen The Artist, he’ll want to make a movie just like it…except it won’t be anything like the Oscar-winning picture of his inspiration. Rather, it probably turn out more like this film.
Find the nearest Blockbuster near your home so you can rent this film almost immediately. Or, if you prefer that movies came to you instead, set up a Netflix account and start your ordering as soon as possible.