Open Season

Palm Springs Film Fest 1995–Actor Robert Wuhl (Cobb, Mistress) makes an impressively assured directorial debut in Open Season, a timely social satire about TV's ratings wars, obsession with winning, and corporate power in America. Though the material is mostly familiar and the satire not biting enough, pic's production values are so accomplished that they make for a most gratifying entertainment.

As writer and director, Wuhl aspires high, aiming to place his satire in the honorable tradition of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges' classic comedies. One can also detect the influence of such quintessentially New York writers as Paddy Chayefsky (specifically Network) and Woody Allen.

Wuhl plays Stuart Sain, an ambitious, self-centered 38-year-old Jewish executive at Fielding, a Nielsen-like rating company, who's itching for promotion. Happily married to Cary (Maggie Han), a psychologist running a rehab clinic for drug addicts in the East Village, he experiences the joys and problems of a modern dual-career union.

As the story begins, the GPN Network unveils its amazing new season, with such glittering shows as “Daddy Does Dope” and “Kicking the Habit.” Owned by the pompous, self-satisfied George Plunkett (Gailrad Sartain), GPN has been number one for ten consecutive years. Indeed, Billy Patrick (Rod Taylor), the arch conservative programming head, believes that “unless the Lord changes the rules of the game…the numbers are never wrong.”

In a TV Special about Fielding, to promote a state of the art computer that never wrong, Sain loses his temper, offends a pretentious critic and jeopardizes his promotion. But he's offered a new P.R. position by Rachel Rowen (Helen Shaver), the politically correct head of Public TV, PBT, who turns out to be just as obsessive about success and “being number one” as her more crass competitors.

For a while it seems that PBT is winning the race with its more “audacious” cultural programs. Soon, however, it turns out that, despite their reputation, the Fielding boxes malfunctioned, hence producing erroneous results. This mishap happens, of course, on a crucial day, when Sain is to be honored with the Peabody media excellency award. What is this schlemiel, bleeding-heart liberal going to do

Chief problem is Wuhl's attempt to reconcile the hard edge of a social satire with the soft sentiments of a romantic fable. The comedy is at its best early on, when the material is sketchy, loose and anecdotal. However, its center is rather flat and the last sequence, in which Sain has to resolve his moral dilemma, goes Capracorn, borrowing quite a bit from the mushy ending of Meet John Doe.

Open Season wants to be a crazily inventive comedy, but it is not spiked with many fresh or perverse jokes–pic's bark is better than its bite. The film may also be too calculated for its own good, beginning with the casting: Sain's wife is Asian, his partner black, the greedy executives all white.

Nonetheless, Wuhl proves to be a resourceful helmer, who is particularly adept with brisk tempo, a crucial ingredient for triumphant comedies. He keeps things moving so fast that while watching the audience won't have time to see the script's shortcomings.

Wuhl, who plays the lead role with gusto, has also coaxed good performances from his talented cast. Sartain is delicious as the megalomaniac capitalist, for whom winning has direct effect on the size of his penis, which he measures daily! It's good to see veteran Rod Taylor, as the “religious” executive praying to the Lord for good ratings, and Helen Shaver, as the overly excited Public TV head, who becomes sexier and more desirable when she hits the Big Time. A number of uncredited cameo appearances (Tom Selleck) and real-life celebs (Larry King) add appealing authenticity to the film.

For a first endeavor, production values are good, most notably Marvin Hamlisch's buoyant score, Lighthill's alert camera, and Flaum and Kitson's snappily sharp editing, all stupendously juggling the tales' various lines.

A Frozen Rope production.
Produced by Daniel Raskov.
Executive producer, Ron Shelton.
Co-producer, Karen Coch.
Directed, written by Robert Wuhl.
Camera, Stephen Lighthill.
Editor, Seth Flaum.
Music, Marvin Hamlisch.
Production design, Linda Burton.
Art direction, Jacques Burdette.
Sound, Michael Sanchez.
Casting, Ed Johnson.

Running time: 97 min.


Stuart Sain……………..Robert Wuhl
Billy Patrick…………….Rod Taylor
George Plunkett………Gailard Sartain
Rachel Rowen……………Helen Shaver
Cary Sain………………..Maggie Han
Herbert Goodfellow….Timothy Arrington
Doris Hays-Britton………Dina Merrill
Eric Schlockmeister……..Saul Rubinek