Sometimes, it’s fun to dive into a film by dissecting its credits to figure out how it, out of all the screenplays flooding into the indie cinema marketplace, got made.
The first thing that jumps out in reading the credits of “The Untold Story” are the surnames.
It’s a light, stumbling romance that stars veteran character actor Barry Van Dyke, with people like Jason Connery, Ellen Travolta, Omar Gooding and Jordan Ladd in the supporting cast.
For the life of me, I cannot recall a film that had so many offspring and siblings of film and TV stars in its cast. Dick Van Dyke’s son, Sean Connery’s son, John Travolta’s sister, Cuba Gooding’s brother and screen legend Alan Ladd’s granddaughter — it’s like a whole season of “Murder She Wrote.”
But kudos to co-writer/director Shane Stanley for figuring out you can get your movie financed and filmed like that. And as it’s a Hollywood story — aged actor, trying to get back in the cutthroat business that turned its back on him — who knows Hollywood better than those who grew up in it?
Yet “Untold” is a tedious tale whose editing shows signs of the struggle to give those cast in it their “fair share” of screen time — pointless montages of the mundane details of life (not mundane to rich Hollywood folk), scenes that carry on past their (tepid) payoff.
That’s a common failing of movies where you’ve got a lot of “names” to keep happy and not a lot of cash to offer them. And pacing? That’s the Achilles heel of modern movie making. It’s not the flaccid recycled scripts, it’s the lack of ruthless editors who can hack 104 minutes into a faster, tighter 70 minutes that comes closer to working.
We meet Edward Forester (Van Dyke), a veteran of some 40 films, Broadway and a popular TV cop series “The Six” as he’s downsizing and watching his life shrink, right before his eyes. He still has the Jaguar he earned when the money was rolling in, but now it’s parked in front of an under-sized dump of an apartment out in The Valley.
He had “a tabloid incident” or two that made him less employable. The bigger reason his agent (Connery) is dumping him? He’s 64.
Edward reaches out to colleagues (Ladd) and employees he mistakenly regards as “friends.” They’re no help, and most of them don’t have his good manners.
But this young would-be writer/director (ex-child star Miko Hughes) has a script he wants him to do. It makes Edward laugh out loud. If only he can get the role, get the financing, get this “comeback” project under way. If only he can find Jeremy (Hughes), who drops out of sight when their first shot at financing the film falls through.
People still call Edward (nice dye job) “handsome,” and women from “the business” are still interested in him sexually. But he’s got this feisty Latina neighbor (Nia Peeples, who broke out on TV’s “Fame” in the ’80s, and was on “Walker: Texas Ranger,” for years). They “meet cute.” She’s getting dressed in front of an open window and cusses him out for looking.
She’s broke, works as a car touch-up painter and detailer and there’s a little boy of four in her care who doesn’t speak. So she’s quite short tempered with the man she keeps deriding as “Abuelo” (grandpa) and “viejo” (old man).
As in, get your moving truck out of the way, “ToDAY viejo!” Plainly, they’re destined to be together.
So yes, the plot has a few standard elements and the characters have the promise of “color.” And your cast is experienced at filming quickly (lots of TV work) and making the most of any script.
What could mess it up? Because scene by pointless or painfully overlong scene, Shane Stanley (also born into the business, he’s the son of co-writer, actor and sometime director Lee Stanley) does.
Start with the endless banalities the movie opens with. There’s the moving-in montage, the housekeeping montage, the grocery-shopping, cookware-buying, noisy neighbors keeping you awake, and drippy faucet and “I’ve never done my own laundry,” and a scene in yet another movie that is shocked SHOCKED by how ill-mannered cell-phone addicts are on dates, and then having our hero finally recognized by the cable guy.
“Wait, you’re Edward Forester!”
A solid 20 minutes of that begin the film and almost nothing happens in them to make it worth watching. Catarina (Peeples) is speaking for us all when she barks at her new neighbor.
“Come on, abuelo!
It takes forever to get around to Edward’s last hope — the script for “The Best Medicine” — to show up and give the picture a hint of forward momentum.
Yes, the details that come out of meeting with an accountant, finding out how little income even a successful actor can expect from residuals from past work ($25K per year), how your peers can be seriously put-out if you ask them for career help, are modestly interesting.
Medical suggestions, “little blue pill” hook-ups and the like? Everybody shares those.
“Oxy…it’s magical. Takes away all kinds of pain!”
“The Untold Story” feels threadbare, a comedy creaking along on a walker. It’s not the cast that’s “old,” it’s the screenplay’s paucity of new ideas, new observations about life, fresh gags or situations that seem “ready for the home.”
A movie where “Times and people have been known to change” is its byword loses itself instead on pointless minutia — scenes and characters (Catarina’s workplace, for starters) that clutter rather than advance the script, caricatures that are the least funny examples of “the funny agent,” the “kvetching accountant,” the “Latin spitfire” in memory.
Peeples, playing a woman who knows her own age (pushing 60) and yet still calls her neighbor “old man,” gives fair value and sets off a couple of sparks. Aside from her, a cameo by the late Dan Haggerty (“Grizzly Adams”) may be the sweetest moment in the picture. It arrives, too little and entirely too late to save “The Untold Story.”
I’m all for actors getting work into their AARP years, but you’ve got to give them a story much more worth telling than this one, which should have remained “untold.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, with profanity, suggestions of drug abuse
Cast: Barry Van Dyke, Nia Peeples, Miko Hughes, Jason Connery, Dan Haggerty
Credits: Directed by Shane Stanley, script by Lee Stanley and Shane Stanley. An Ammo Content release.
Running time: 1:44