Release Date: January 29th, 1993 (USA)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Charles S. Haas, Jerico Stone
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Kellie Martin, Lisa Jakub, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller
Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes
Joe Dante made a slew of really good and iconic pictures from the late 1970s into the early 1990s. Matinee is the one that I consider to be the end of that great era. Which I guess should tell you that I enjoy it.
The film takes place in Key West during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The setting really adds a lot to the picture and gives it more meaning than it would’ve had otherwise. John Goodman’s Lawrence Woolsey sees the event as an opportunity to capitalize on people’s fears and worries, as he releases his newest atomic-themed sci-fi/horror film on the people closest to the looming threat of nuclear annihilation.
The subject matter is very dark but this is still a pretty light-hearted family film. The nuclear subtext however, is used to make a stark political and social statement very similar to how Toho Studios did it in the 1950s with Gojira (the original Godzilla). This is more than just a movie about old school monsters and sci-fi thrills and it has a lot of heart and charm as it tells its story. This very well could be Joe Dante at his absolute best.
John Goodman put on a stellar performance as Woolsey, a living legend among horror and science fiction aficionados. This film also came early in his theatrical career, when he still hadn’t evolved into the great actor he would become. This is from the same era as the disappointing Babe Ruth biopic The Babe, as well as the fairly shitty but amusing King Ralph. Although he did have the near-masterpiece Barton Fink on his résumé already. Plus, he was still in the middle of playing America’s favorite dad in the 90s, Dan Conner on Roseanne.
Goodman’s Woolsey was a big showman and master of theatrical gimmickry like William Castle (director of the original House On Haunted Hill and The Tingler). He rigs the movie theater with gadgets and other tricks, in an effort to make his film interactive with the audience. There are buzzers in the seats, special lighting effects, smoke and optical illusions that go off throughout the film’s duration.
The centerpiece of this motion picture, is the young cast. Mainly, the two brothers Gene and Dennis. Their father is shipped off to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis and they are stuck in Key West with their mother, not knowing what the immediate future holds. The film also follows Gene’s friend Stan and his budding relationship with Sherry, all while dealing with her psycho ex-boyfriend.
The kid actors are great and the fact that they aren’t all that recognizable really is a benefit to the film. They feel like real kids in real situations, despite the absurdity of their situations at times. The kid cast kind of reminds me of the kids from The Sandlot. They are all really likable and relatable and they feel authentic in this period piece film.
I also have to mention that Joe Dante regulars Robert Picardo and Dick Miller knock it out of the park in this one. I only wish Miller’s part would’ve been bigger, considering his character’s backstory.
Matinee is a fantastic and really fun film. I wouldn’t call it my favorite Joe Dante movie but I would say that it might be his best.