Return to the ’80s Movies: Modern Problems (1981)

Chevy Chase
Patti D’Arbanville
Mary Kay Place
Brian Doyle-Murray
Nell Carter
Dabney Coleman

Rated PG

Runtime 89 minutes

Released December 25, 1981

Synopsis: Jealous, harried air traffic controller Max Fiedler, recently dumped by his girlfriend, comes into contact with nuclear waste and is granted the power of telekinesis, which he uses not only to win her back, but to gain a little

Last time I had seen this? Never.

What I knew about this movie before watching it Almost nothing. I just remember the image of Chevy Chase with the white powder on his face and his hair sticking up all over the place.

Review/Summary: From the beginning of this Return to the ’80s Movies series, every movie I had watched was great – until now. Just after Caddyshack, and before National Lampoon’s Vacation, Chevy Chase starred in this movie as Max Fielder – a man whose life is slowly going down the drain. He is a nice guy, but his jealousy has driven his girlfriend, Darcy (Patti D’Arbanville), away. He still gets along with his ex-wife, Lorraine (Mary Kay Place).

Who wears short shorts? Chevy wears short shorts!

While out and about, with Max telling Lorraine about his problems, they run into Brian (Brian Doyle-Murray), an old friend of Max’s who hadn’t seen each other since high school. Brian became a paraplegic in the Vietnam War. Brian also had his caretaker, Dorita (Nell Carter) with him. While catching up, Brian runs a publishing company, and he is going to be having a press party for a very successful author named Mark Winslow, who writes self confidence books. Lorraine got excited because she loved his book, Get Behind Me and Stay There. So they accept the invitation to the party.

The party ends up being at a gay bar. Ha Ha!! Isn’t that freakin’ hilarious!?!? (if I knew how to do an eyeroll emoticon, I would have put one here). While Max heads to the bathroom (so he could go through the gauntlet of men HAHAHAHA!!!! oh brother), Lorraine and Brian hit it off. Max ends up running into Darcy, and an annoying suitor named Barry (Mitch Kreindel). Awkward!! Finally, Max and Lorraine meet Mark Winslow, played by the phenomenal Dabney Coleman. Max tells them how he just ran into Darcy and Barry. And we see Dabney Coleman at the top of his game, being a arrogant jerk. As Max is in the middle of excusing himself so he could talk to Lorraine alone, Mark dismisses him and walks away before Max could finish getting his sentence out. I was watching this by myself, and that part just made me bust out laughing out loud.

Max leaves as Lorraine stays to be with Brian. On the way home, Max gets stuck driving behind a nuclear waste truck. There is an open barrel with green nuclear waste goop pouring out of it and splashing Max’s car. It covers the car, and goes through the sunroof, also covering Max.

When Max wakes up the next day, he realizes that he has telekinetic powers. The rest of the movie is Max displaying his powers, and getting revenge on his rivals. There were some humorous parts, and Chevy Chase made awesome faces while using his powers. But overall, it was pretty predictable, so there was nothing too exciting.

The climax of the movie takes place at Brian’s summer beach house with Max, Darcy (who got rid of Barry), Brian, Lorainne, Dorita, and Mark. Dorita, who is really into voodoo, senses something wrong with Max. Max had been trying to tell Darcy about what was going on, but something had always happened which prevented him from doing it. Finally, at the big dinner scene, Mark antagonizes Max so much that he snaps, and shows off his powers to everybody all at once, using Mark as his example. Max then sees himself as a monster, and goes to his room.

Thinking that he is possessed, Dorita tries to do some kind of voodoo exorcism on him by spreading demon powder around his bed and doing some chants. This had no effect as Chevy Chase went all Original Saturday Night Live Cast, and snorted up all of the demon powder, and tossed Dorita around. Then we went go from The Exorcist to King Kong, as Max then heads up to the roof. Darcy followed him up to try to help. This was a dark comedy, but not that dark. Max did not have that tragic King Kong ending.

Does the movie stand the test of time? Sort of. I can’t see a truck with “Nuclear Waste” literally labelled on a truck, with green goop pouring out of it. And if that did happen, I can’t see it giving somebody telekinetic powers if it landed on them. If this movie was made today, there would be some other explanation of how the person got their ability. And I think the gay bar scene would cause all kind of outrage and protests these days.
The special effects weren’t too bad – especially for 1981. The green glow that was shown around Max in a couple of scenes didn’t look that great. But, the telekinesis scenes looked pretty good – even by today’s standards.

Worth the Return? If you can watch it for free, it is worth it. It wouldn’t be a total waste of time – especially with Dabney Coleman in it. If you want to see a good Chevy Chase movie, there are better ones to watch. But, you could do worse.

Rating 3 lines of Demon Powder (If not for Dabney Coleman, it would have been 2)

Let me know if you have seen this movie before and what were your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Return to the ’80s Movies: Modern Problems (1981)”

  1. That was a really good scene. I loved Coleman in that, and the effects were good. They weren’t cheesy. I probably would have liked this movie more if I saw it when I was younger. But, I probably appreciate Dabney Coleman more now than I would have been back then.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s