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IMPULSE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kino Lorber is giving this title a Blu-ray upgrade — the 1984 dark fantasy, not the unrelated 1990, 1974 or 1954 crime thrillers of the same title. I wasn’t a fan of this one but since it’s being reissued, here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Oct. 3, 1984.

The idea isn’t bad, really. A small dairy community goes off its nut as people begin acting on impulse, actively pursuing feelings or thoughts that had heretofore been swept under the rug or locked in the closet.

But “Impulse” is just that — a not-bad idea with nowhere to go. Once the premise is set up, the screenwriters don’t know what to do with it, so a short story that might have been an interesting “Twilight Zone” episode is dragged out to feature length.

Worse, however, are individual scenes that are laughably silly and a wrap-up that is just another tiresome variation on the government-paranoia theme we get whenever a filmmaker doesn’t know how to make plausible the explanation for an incredible story.

     

                   Tim Matheson, Meg Tilly, 'Impulse'

After an earthquake shakes up a small farming community, we are introduced to Tim Matheson and Meg Tilly, a young New York surgical resident and ballet dancer, respectively, who live together. The film then takes a shocking turn, as Tilly receives a phone call from her mother who inexplicably abuses her verbally, then shoots herself while still on the phone.

Naturally, Matheson and Tilly are on the next bus to her hometown (Bus? The doctor can’t afford to rent a car?), where her father runs a small dairy farm. Mom is barely surviving on a life-support system, with the help of a kindly, aged country doctor (Hume Cronyn).

Then weird things begin happening. Some old men play kick the can in the street, another gentlemanly looking fellow urinates on a car, people make love in public, a couple of middle-aged citizens blatantly steal from a bank’s open cash drawer, one young man breaks his own fingers in a jealous rage … the camera sees all this, but Matheson and Tilly are apparently too dumb to notice any of it. Or maybe they’ve just been in New York too long and think this is normal behavior in the sticks.

But before you can say, “Is it something in the water?” Matheson is testing the water. Don’t be put too far afield, however, by the negative results of his tests.

After a while Matheson joins the crowd, unable to control his hedonistic sexual desires, and when he commits a murder, Tilly runs for her life.

     

                           Bill Paxton, 'Impulse'

The R-rated sex scenes are graphic, and an abundance of decadent behavior, violence and profanity also account for the rating. But I suppose with a movie that has a premise this free and wild, we should be grateful the filmmakers didn’t go any further than they did. “Impulse” could have been a much trashier film than it is — and it’s pretty trashy.

Matheson, best known for his Robert Hays-style portrayal of straight-looking goofballs in “Animal House” and “Up the Creek,” and Tilly, the youngest member of “The Big Chill” ensemble, make an appealing team, and the film as a whole manages to build some tension along the way.

But director Graham Baker (“The Final Conflict”) signals in advance the climax of nearly every set piece, so the audience, rather than just anticipating what might happen, accurately predicts what will happen.

Nothing in a suspense film is more frustrating than that. And then “Impulse” finally wears out its welcome.