Tied To a Chair

 

 

April 22, 2011

Something goes very wrong in “Tied To a Chair,” a deeply confused farce about a middle-aged woman, Naomi Holbroke (Bonnie Loren), trying to get back into the acting game after an absence of decades. An ill-conceived subplot involving taxi-driver-suicide-bombers in New York (creepy!) does little to convince us that this movie has any clear destination in mind.

 

Michael Bergmann, the director, and Loren are both associated with the Tribeca-based Process Studio Theatre. In fact, on the theatre’s Web site, Bergmann and Loren are the only artists currently listed as working with the theatre. Is “Tied To a Chair” a vanity project for them? It does feel that way. What Mario Van Peebles, playing burnt-out film director Billy Rust, is doing in a film like this is anybody’s guess.

 

As the film begins, Naomi’s marriage to a snobby British official is falling apart. Why? Because her cooking is that bad. We first see her manically rushing about her house trying to please her husband, to be the perfect housewife, then she is rather suddenly pawning him off on a neighbor who can actually cook and keep him happy in bed to boot. Marriage done, no big deal…what just happened?

 

We are asked to believe that this hyper woman has for many years been in this subservient relationship with a total bore and doing nothing but staying at home. The tone of this opening sequence, which includes some of the film’s first weak attempts at slapstick, is way too close to comfort to British TV comedy at its worst.

 

The screenplay, by Bergmann, is a major problem from the get go. And the problem goes far beyond its lack of laughs; any way you slice it, this script just does not make a whole lot of sense and, in fact, makes less and less as it rambles on. It is almost as if Bergmann is making the story up as he goes along.

 

Naomi, free of her husband, goes to the theater and remembers her abandoned dream to become a great actress. Ironically, Loren’s performance as Naomi, on which so much of this film has to depend, is overdone, grating, and unconvincing. She is the film’s second biggest problem after the writing.

 

With the acting bug again coursing through her veins, Naomi is impulsively off to the Cannes Film Festival to try to score a movie role. In another odd sequence, she attends one of those Cannes yacht parties and falls overboard—apparently for no reason.

 

While at Cannes, Naomi meets Rust (Peebles), who is desperately shopping a script in trying to revive his career. She of course becomes obsessed with getting the starring role in his film, whether Rust takes a liking to her or not.

 

The title “Tied To a Chair” comes from a scene in Rust’s script with a woman naturally tied to a chair. Naomi is determined for some unknown reason that this scene will be her screen test, mentioning more than once to anyone within earshot that “every woman’s fantasy” is to be tied up. Really?

 

Another odd sequence: Rust attends a dinner with a famous elderly actress seeking her involvement in his film. When she criticizes his script, he admits that it was written with a computer program called “Ghost Plus,” which supposedly composes every word of your script for you. Huh?

 

Rust gives in and promises Naomi that if she can make it to New York in four days, he will give her a chance at that screen test. It is when Naomi arrives in the city that this film starts to seriously derail. Let’s see, Naomi’s taxi driver from the airport tries to rip her off. But she rips him off instead, stealing his taxi and, after disrupting a presidential motorcade, getting chased by the police all over Manhattan.

 

Naomi finally makes it to Rust’s office for her screen test, only to find that he has been decapitated. Wait…decapitated? And she is immediately a murder suspect.

 

The rest of the movie is barely comprehensible: Rust turns up not dead after all; duffle bags with millions of dollars get shuffled around; and Naomi somehow becomes enmeshed in an investigation of the taxi-driver-suicide-bombers, who are often bluntly referred to in this film as “Arab terrorists” or sometimes just “Arabs” for short.

 

Naomi, cleverer and cleverer, eventually saves the day, while everything builds frenetically to a truly bizarre homage to the ending of “Casablanca” (1942). It comes out of nowhere and takes us nowhere.

 

This movie is, in other words, a mystifying mess. But it is not the kind of mystifying mess that one can enjoy as any kind of guilty pleasure. No, it is painful to think how hard the cast and crew must have worked and how much money must have been wasted on this most seriously misguided project.

 

“Tied To a Chair” makes everyone involved look like amateurs at best, off their rockers at worst. Or in the case of Peebles: was he kidnapped and forced to appear in this movie?

 

Excessive continuity errors and poor camerawork by Douglas Underdahl further make this film hard to stomach. But the underlying flaw, again, in this case fatal: “Tied To a Chair” has no detectable organizing principles.

 

Cast

 

Naomi Holbroke – Bonnie Loren

Billy Rust – Mario Van Peebles

Detective Peter Farrel – Robert Gossett

Henry Holbroke – Richard Franklin

Kamal – Sayed Badreya

Liz – Ali Marsh

Detective Rosalie Aragon – Joselin Reyes

 

Credits

 

A Process Studio Theatre release.

Directed and written by Michael Bergmann.

Produced by Michael Bergman.

Cinematography, Douglas Underdahl.

Editing, Jonathan Sloman.

Sound, Steven Visscher.

Original Music, Deborah Mollison.

 

Running time: 95 minutes.