The Fisher King

1991, Movie, R, 137 mins

Review

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Terry Gilliam's first project as a directorial "hired gun" is a grandiose, overblown attempt to fuse the medieval myth of the Fisher King with a story of alienation and redemption in contemporary Manhattan.

Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is a cynical disc jockey whose radio talk show attracts the lonely and frustrated. When one of his frequent callers, Edwin (Christian Clemenson), confides he's just met a beautiful girl at Babbitts, a trendy bar, Jack goes off on a vitriolic tirade against the yuppies who frequent the place. He ends by saying: "Edwin, they have to be stopped before it's too late. It's us or them." Taking Jack's words at face value, Edwin goes on a shooting spree inside the restaurant, slaughtering several patrons.

Three years later Jack has reached a nadir of despair and self-loathing. Although involved in a relationship with Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), the supportive owner of a video store, he has lost his will to live. Drunk, he decides to end it all by jumping off a pier into the river. Before he can do this, though, he is attacked by two homicidal teenagers, and then rescued by Parry (Robin Williams), who appears to be some kind of vagrant with a mystical turn of phrase. It turns out that Parry is a former professor of medieval history who is now engaged on a quest for the Holy Grail. Parry is convinced he's spotted the Grail in a magazine (it's actually a silver trophy belonging to a billionaire), and that Jack is the ideal candidate to retrieve it from its owner's castellated Fifth Avenue apartment building.

THE FISHER KING's problems begin with Richard LaGravenese's screenplay and are amplified by Gilliam's showy direction and an unbearably fey performance by Robin Williams. The idea, apparently, was to give an explicitly mythical dimensional to a modern-day story of sin and redemption. Unfortunately, though, the script never resolves the different levels on which it tries to operate, and also throws in too many loose ends which never get cleared up. The tone of the film, largely set by Williams's "Please feel sorry for me" performance, is unremittingly cloying, with an impossibly cute, feel-good ending that adds insult to injury.

There are redeeming factors; a scene in which bustling commuters in Grand Central Station are suddenly transformed into waltzing couples has undeniable magic, and Bridges and Ruehl give gritty, unaffected performances that sometimes threaten to make the whole thing believable. For the most part, though, THE FISHER KING is awash in the kind of neo-mythical whimsy that Gilliam helped to puncture in the far more enjoyable MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. leave a comment

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