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The Press. (Cortland, N.Y.) 1972-1990, February 26, 1988, Image 17

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The Press/Friday, February 26, 1988/SEVENTEEN Williams' road to success-joyful & tortured By GENE SISKEL Tribune Media Services Robin Williams readily ad- mits he's made a lot of bad movies. But even he can't deny he's made a winner this time. \Yes he said, \even the little devil on my other shoulder is saying , 'Nice go- ing.\' The film is \GOOD MOR- NING, VIETNAM\ in which the quicksilver come- dian plays an irreverent Arm- ed Forces Radio disc jockey assigned to Vietnam in 1965 just as the \Contlict\is turn- ing into a war. The highlight of the film is about 20 minutes of Williams on the radio, improvising phony interviews with everyone from an artillery man with a record request(\Play anything, but play it LOUD!\) to a fashion designer who hates camouflage uniforms (\When you're in battle you should wear something that says 'clash!\ 1 ). Those two lines alone should be evideq_ce that the manic Robin Williams you know from TV and concerts has finally done it right on film. \For me,'' he said, speak- ing by phone from his Nor- thern California home, \'Good Morning, Vietnam' was an opportunity to finally put on screen what I've been doing elsewhere for so long. There have been so many articles about me having this incredible energy on stage but not in the movies. And it's been true. Part of the problem is that I just waited for projects to come to me. Some of them weren't very good. And I may have done one for the money or whatever. Part of it, too, may have been my drama training at J uilliard (the prestigious arts school) where comedy was one thing and acting was considered something else, at least by me. I became sort of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jesse!.\ But after crashing and bur- ning in a series of bad films in the mid-80s, \The Sur- vivors,\ \The Best of Times,\ and \Club Paradise,\ Williams had the good sense to put himself in the hands of Barry Levinson, a sensitive but strong director (\Diner \Tin Men\). The result is that Williams' trademark spontaneity is ex- pressed within both a story and setting that are as com- pelling as his humor. Williams' character, Adrian Cronauer, is named after an actual, though less irreverent Vi~tnam DJ, who did begin his popular broad- casts by screaming, '\Gooooooooooood Morn- ing, Vietnam.\ But even though Williams was given a script for his on- radio scenes, Levinson allow:. ed -his star to improvise and then refine th<>se improvisa- tions. Levinson edited them into what amounts to a series of the 4 ' Best of Robin Williams'' monologues. In· between the jokes are the sights and sounds of American soldiers in and around Saigon. There's also a love story between Williams and a young Viet- namese woman. It starts out funny, with him chasing her down the street, throwing one~liners, and wrangling a date in which she's chaperon- ed by her entire family. But the film is more than a series of jokes, and their relation- ship . ultimately reflects the futility of the war. The result is a movie that looks at Vietnam through a cocked eye, finding humor amid the horror, reminding us most of \M*A*S*H\ (1970). Williams' road to his cur- rent success has been both joyful and tortured. Current- ly separated from his wife of nine years, he says his greatest pleasure is his son, Zachary. \The child amazes me. He's an adult. He sees me and says, 'Good morning, Robin,' and I'm the one who can't speak. We'll go to a restaurant, and he'll say, 'I'll have a Caesar salad.' How does he know about Caesar salads? Do they teach that in school?\ And even though he con- tinues to make jokes about drugs, Williams, who was with John Belushi the night he died, now admits he was addicted to both alcohol and cocaine. And he was willing to talk about it. - \I didn't go to the Betty Ford center,\ he said. ''I clawed the cf'iling in my own home. Peopie assumed I used cocaine to get myself up for my act, but actually tile op- posite was true. \I used coke and booze to distance myself from other people. I'd get loaded and stare out a window for hours. People would leave me alone, 'He's smashed bet- ter not touch him.\' Williams was born 1n Chicago on July 21, 1951. His father, who died only three months ago, . was the midwest regional manager for Lincoln-Mercury, and the family moved back and forth between Chicago and suburban Detroit. \We lived in Chicago until I was five or six, moved to Detroit, and !hen we came -back to Chicago when I wa~ ten. A.t first we had an apartment at 38E. Elm St., but we moved to Lake Forest and then to Libertyville. where we lived right down the road from Adlai Stevenson.\ So his family was well-to- do. \We were 'OK-to-do,\' Williams said. ''Strange peo- ple there (WASPish voice): 'We were all right. I was 16 before I got my first Mercedes Benz. I had to work all summer long just to go to Europe. Life was a bitch. We'd wake up some mornings with just one case of champagne. Damn it all. Sounds like the Lake Forest blues, (singing) Mmmmmm, woke up the other day; I'd run out of Perrier. Damn. Get me the Sharper Image catalog, quick. \Sure now everybody will hear that I lived in Lake Forest and will think I knew the Armours and the Swifts. No, but I met their kids, and- they weren't too tightly wrapped.'' Sent later to private b<>ys' school in Detroit, Williams himself was tightly wrapped. It was only before his senior year in 1968, when his family moved to trendy Marin County ,Calif.,that y()ung Robin began to unwind with the much looser Ca!if()rnia crowd. the good vibrations from the summer of love in San Francisco were still around. Robin was admitted to the highly regarded Claremont (Calif.) Men's College, where he majored in political science. But his grades suf- fered, and Robin's father told him he might as well go to the College of Marin where at least his family wouldn't waste Claremont's expensive tuition. It was at the College of Marin that Robin fell in love with acting and learned about improvi- sion with the San Francisco performance group known as the Committee. Thanks to a lucky high draft number, he missed ser- ving in Vietnam and was able to continue his education in the theater, winning a full scholarship to Juilliard. Dur- ing his three years there, however, his cut-up comedy often frustrated his teachers, including John Houseman. ln 1976, he returned to California to pursue what came naturally, stand-up comedy. Two years later, he achieved enormous success on national television as the free-spirited visitor from another planet in ''Mork and Mindy.•• In 1980, he starred in his eagerly awaited first film, Robert Altman's \Popeye.\ Though the whimsical pic- ture had its admirers and, contrary to industry legend, did make money, it did give Williams' TV fans what they expected or wanted. Yet throughout his spotty film career ,his best work has been wtth strong directors such as Altman and George Roy Hill (\The World According to Garp\)and Paul Mazursky (\Moscow on the Hudson\). But Williams'bad films came in a bunch and he bot- tomed out emotionally and artistically in 1985 after he trusted, he said, his friend and fledgling writer-director Harold Ramis, who assured him he could pull together what Williams considered an unfinished script called \Club Paradise.\ The result was a disaster. \My role should have been played by somebody who the audience thought wanted to look up their skirt. I shold have played one of the tourists on the beach. I tried- to get out of the project, but there was some heavy pressure on me to do it or be labeled 'poison' in Hollywood. So I did it and got labeled 'poison' anyway.'' Talking at any length with Robin Williams is a special experience. You must tape- record his words or vou'll miss 2/3 's of them if you try to take notes. You quick- ly learn not to interrupt lest you break a \freight train of thought, jokes ana tree associations. For example, talking with him about his father working in the American car business triggered a recollection about his father's anger when Robin first bought a foreign car. \I remember l bought a four-wheel drive Toyota, and he went, 'By God, you buy American.'\ -~'But, Dad, they have dead rats in their engines.\ ''Shut up and buy American.'' And that led to a monologue about voice- activated instrument panels: \I always wanted to have orie of those voice-a~tivators, that as the car got older, the voice-activator started screw- ing up, sort of an Alzheimer's Ford. You open the door and it goes (gravely, old man's voice), Ahhh, something's wrong. Look · under the hood, dammit, 1 don't know. (Heavy coughing). Waddya bother- ing me for? I don't know.' \Then you could have various ethnic vmce ac- tivators. How about an old Jewish guy? 'You turn it on, and it goes (heavy accent), 'Good morning, Ceil, good morning. My oyl, my oyl. Oh God, my shocks. Ceil, I'm telling you, yesterday, you took such a turn, oh, boy. Listen, Ceil, I'm sorry about all the knocking. Listen though, I'm thinking about a new crankcase. But don't go to Sears this time. I don't want to be touched by some ethnic types. There was a guy named Raoul who had his hands on me where I don't want to talk. And, please, make 'em put on a rubber glove. These days you don't know what you're gonna get, uuccchh, God love it.\ I'm mostly interested in how a person talking with another person, or a person standing alone on a stage, can enter into a state in which he is liberated to say things and make connections he might otherwise hold back. Trying to maximize the brain without assaulting it anymore, that's my goal.\ As in conversations with most comics, however, there are moments of silence in which you are left wondering about the identity of the per- son you suspect may be hiding behind the jokes. ''Good, I'm glad he feel that way now,\ said Laurie Williams, Robin's mother, who also lives in the Bay area. Friends of Williams say one of the sources of his genius is his mother, who is very close to her son. On a recent visit to England, Williams and his mother met Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Mrs. Williams said to the princess, ''I would love to meet your husband,\ where upon Diana tapped Charles on the shoulder and said, \This is Robin's mother.\ Charles said, ''You should be very proud of your son, he's brilliant.\ And Mrs. Williams, more proud of her son than impressed with meeting the future king of England, replied. \Thank you, I am, and you're a wonderful host.\ Robin burst out laughing as did the royal party. Williams was asked to reveal a side of himself that the rest of us probably would never guess. He answered after a long pause Mrs. Williams said her son \I think a side of me, or at regularly makes her laugh by least an interest that l've kept calling her up and fooling her hidden, is my interest in the with impersonations. \He's human brain. very good at voices, you \I'm not into channeling know. He can do a little or contemplating past lives, child very well. Sometimes, but I have been trying t~ . ~ I'll be rushing to get .9~t ~f study what sparks creativity the house, and I'll get this in the brain and what it is call (little girl's voice): that triggers leaps of 'Hello, tllis is Candy. My thought. mommy isn't home. Can I I read a lot about it. I take come over and play with some vitamins that I think you?' And I get w· -ed- might be of some help, but tient· ho ·• ... .Jul me. 'Shoot to Kill' is mediocre By JEFFERY SINGER Staff Writer Veteran actor Sidne~ Poirier teams up with Tom Berenger, the star of Platoon in this action thriller set in the Pacific Nothwest moun- tains. The film opens with a dia- mond robbery in San Fran- cisco. FBI Special Agent Stanton (Poitier) is called in on the case and finds out the diamonds are meant as a ran- some in a kidnap case. The investigation sours and the kidnapper escapes. Stanton cases the kidnapper/murderer to the Pacific Northwest. There the killer assumes the identity of a member of a hiking party, led by Sarah (Kirstie Alley, Rebecca on \Cheers\). Stan- ton insists that John Knox, S~rah's boyfriend (Berenger) aid him in the pursuit of the killer. The audience doesn't know which member of Sarah's party is the villian, and this adds a lot t() the suspense of the film. The chase ends in Vancouver with an exciting climax on the ferry boat. The beginning of this film kind of drags. Poitier recites his lines in a monotone, but later in the film he proves his capabilities as a great actor. Tom Berenger is very good as the rugged mountain man Knox. Knox isn't very elo- quent and he let's his actions speak for him. Alley is not terribly convincmg as Knox's girlfriend. I didn't really believe her as the outdoors type. Some of the dialogue sounds very written and not spontaneous enough. A lot of the jokes aren't tunny, but there are some humorous moments with Stanton, the city slicker, out in the woods. The cinematography of t~e mountainous landscape ts beautifully photographed by director of photography Michael Chapman. Sometimes the music by John Scott was distracting to what was on the screen. At the end of the film there was a major lapse in logic that kind of made the movie silly. I give this film two and a half stars out of four. Some parts are very exciting while other stretches of the film are dull. \Shoot to Kill\ is play- ing downtown at the Cinema I theatre. '-' U> \' J' \.I ( J J (' j jl} 1 ; 1 ~-.

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