Quiz Show (1994)

DVD Cover (Walt Disney Studios)
Robert Redford Robert Redford
John Turturro John Turturro
Rob Morrow Rob Morrow
Ralph Fiennes Ralph Fiennes
Paul Scofield Paul Scofield
David Paymer David Paymer

7.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Americana, Docudrama, Drama, Period Film
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Review by Chad
Added: March 18, 2005
The year is 1958, and the television quiz show "Twenty One" is one of the hottest shows airing, even beating out "I Love Lucy" in the ratings. Herbie Stempel (John Turturro) is the reigning champion on the show, having won nearly seventy-thousand dollars during his winning streak. However, executive Dan Enright (David Paymer) feels that Herbie isn't marketable enough, and that his ugly mug is the reason that the ratings are starting to drop. With that in mind, Enright asks Herbie to take a dive during his next appearance on the show. Herbie is furious and refuses, but Enright consoles him by making promises of other shows that he can set him up with. Finally, Herbie agrees to do the deed and allow a new champion to emerge on the show. That champion would come in the form of college professor and author Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), and to ensure that Mr. Van Doren does well on the show, Enright gives him the answers to the questions in advance. Van Doren is a bit torn about participating in this deception of the American public, but the massive checks that Enright gives him keeps him coming back to the show. Meanwhile, poor Herbie has been forgotten about by Enright, and the promises that were made have been broken. This causes Herbie to take the matter to court, exposing the shady business practices at this game show. The judge dismisses his case and seals the records of the hearing, thanks to a nice payoff from Mr. Enright. It seems as though all hope is lost for Herbie and that the evil executives are going to get away with everything... until, that is, Harvard graduate Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) reads about the sealed case in the papers and decides to do a bit of investigating of his own.

For all of the awards, award nominations and praise that this movie has received, I expected something just a bit better than the final product that I popped into my DVD player this evening. While the core storyline is a good one, the process by which it is revealed is painfully slow and tedious to get through; many, many scenes are presented that either do nothing to further the storyline, or take much too long to reveal just one small element of the overall story. The result in this case is a film that could have worked out much better had the running time of just over two hours been condensed down to about eighty minutes. In my opinion, stretching the material out to such a long running time was the main thing hurting the film, as there's just not two hours worth of storyline to be found in this movie. As contradictory as this may sound, another thing that dragged the film down was the fact that there's too many separate storylines. Now, they all come together eventually, leading into one big plot, but it's quite difficult to feel anything for the numerous people involved while they're building up for the first hour. Just as we're getting interested in the occurrences surrounding one storyline, we're whisked away to another one that, at this point in the film, is completely separate from the other. This kills the flow of the movie, and while it does all come together in the end, that first hour is a chore to get through.

However, this film may have been a bit easier to get through had the actors telling the story been more convincing in their roles. The cast that is found here isn't downright bad, just bland and seemingly uninterested in the characters that they're portraying for the most part. John Turturro (Herbie) is the exception to the rule, playing out one damned fine character as the slightly disgruntled victim of Enright's lies. After he takes his dive, however, he's pretty much done with the movie... he pops in every once in a while to further his allegations and his side of the story, but the rest of the movie falls pretty much squarely on the shoulders of Ralph Fiennes (Van Doren). This man is the living definition of the "not a bad actor, but nothing interesting" phrase. Even in the grand finale of the movie in which he reads an emotional letter to the court, he seems as though he's merely there to collect a check and has no enthusiasm about participating in the film itself. The result of that is a leading man who is far from entertaining to watch. The rest of the cast isn't quite as bad, but they do indeed come close to that level of boredom that Fiennes exudes.

Overall, another major Hollywood film that didn't live up to the hype. It's not a movie that I'd recommend you completely avoid, but be prepared to produce some serious effort to stay awake for that first hour. 4/10.
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