Life in the Food Chain (1992)

AFI/L.A. Film Fest 1992–Douglas Katz makes his feature directorial debut in the indie “Life in the Food Chain,” a time-warp satire about a young Wall Street executive who suffers “aging disorder,” which turns him into an old man. Formulaic narrative, monotonous performance by Jonathan Silverman in the lead, and lack of comic vitality would restrict potential theatrical markets, sending pic to homevideo and other specialized venues.

Set in the l960s, tale begins with the birth of Seymour into a materialistic suburban Jewish family. Fascinated with space, Seymour's childhood fantasy is to become an astronaut, but his down-to-earth parents (Paul Sorvino and Rita Moreno) quickly talk him out of it. Instead, he goes to Harvard and after graduation gets a good job on Wall Street. Seymour becomes, as he says, “everything I never wanted to be.” But he begins to suffer from an mysterious aging disorder; before long he talks, walks, and behaves like an 83 year old man. What ensues, in only intermittently amusing concoction, is a series of encounters with his friends, parents, grandparents, doctor, psychiatrist, rabbi, etc.

“Life in the Food Chain” is modelled on a similar premise as Penny Marshall's “Big,” only more extreme. Satire contains a number of potentially hilarious situations, but they don't gel. Narrative is predictable, and once premise is spelled out, plot machinations become obvious. Story fades long before it worked itself through.

The satire's very structure is problematic, alternating dialogue scenes with voice-over narration and interviews addressed to the camera. Because helmer/scripter doesn't trust his audience, he has his characters explain too much.

The acting of entire cast of pros (some stars) is inexplicably mediocre. Oscar-winner Rita Moreno as the mother, Tony-winner Robert Prosky as grandfather, and Paul Sorvino as father all try hard to pump some life into their roles, but to no avail. Worse yet is Jonathan Silverman's pedestrian and charmless performance in an admittedly demanding role. Typecast in Jewish roles (Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, on stage and screen), Silverman's approach is too heavy-handed, beginning with overblown Yiddish accent.

Debuting helmer exhibits low aptitude for satire, particularly pacing. He shows too much respect for exposition, for setting up situations and introducing characters properly. Pic's beginning and ending are especially weak. The first sequence has too much narration; and last is a pastiche of ideas from many movies. Moreover, even good gags seem to be strained by plodding direction, like the scene between Seymour and cemetery director. Pic screams desperately for touch of a young Woody Allen or Mel Brooks. For Life to work as satire, it needs to be much wilder and funnier–but Katz's pic is not.

Technical credits and behind-the-scenes contributions are modest. Mike Spillar's lensing is functional but lacks definition; there is no power–visual or emotional–in his images.

At the end, hero's life lesson is too embarrassingly blunt to have any resonance. Intended as a sweet-bitter Capraesque fable about the importance of having and following a dream, Life in the Food Chain comes across as a tedious satire with too slight humor to justify its claim to the genre.

Cast

Seymour…..Jonathan Silverman
Max……………Paul Sorvino
Rita……………Rita Moreno
Grandpa Irving…Robert Prosky

Credits

A Katzfilms production. Produced by Joan Fishman. Directed, written by Douglas Katz. Camera (color), Mike Spillar; editor, Dorian Harris; music, Glen Roven; casting, Deborah Brown.

Running time: 89 min.