Wild Palms (1993)

I won’t say much about “Wild Palms” up front because it’s a sci-fi tale that needs to unravel before your eyes for you to believe it.  Not sci-fi like “The Martian Chronicles,” which was old-time B-movie science fiction or even “V,” which was big-budget Hollywood condensed for the small screen and perfectly sensible.  “Wild Palms” seems to take a page from “Twin Peaks” and even anticipate “Lost,” with Oliver Stone as one of its producers.

Even at the time, people didn’t know what to make of “Wild Palms,” with some critics going gaga for it and others finding it ridiculous (look it up on Wikipedia and you’ll find that the British acknowledged it to be one of the worst TV imports from America ever, right up there with “Baywatch” and Anna Nicole Smith’s reality TV show).

“Wild Palms” is downright strange, no doubt about it.  But, is it crazy genius or crazy trash?

James Belushi, whom no one asked to see wearing only boxer shorts, awakens in the middle of the night  and rushes to his pool which he finds drained except for a rhinoceros.  “So this is how it begins,” he mutters before hearing his son’s voice pleading for help and then waking from his dream.

In actuality, James lives a fairly normal family wife, with wife Dana Delaney able to make cappuccino with just the right amount of foam, lovely kids (Dana: “He’s got a bug, so I’m keeping him home today.”  James:  “Why does that kid get so many damn bugs?” Dana: “Because he’s so sweet.”  Donna Reed couldn’t have been schmaltzier.).  All seems just right in the Los Angeles of the future, 2007 (except James’ son has creepy eyes and James is not at all weirded out to see men in suits beating up a man as he drives his sports car past them.  
Things are even gleefully goofy at the office, where James cracks to his secretary that she’s fired for shopping at his wife’s store because “things are getting too incestuous around here” and where his co-worker announces his wife’s latest pregnancy by saying she’s “retaining daughter.”  This at a white shoe law firm, no less.
Enter mysterious Kim Catrall.  In a brunet wig and bright lipstick, not to mention gloves, she looks like trouble, 1950s film noir style.  She and James haven’t seen each other in 15 years, and she even talks like the past.  “I have a son out of wedlock” she says as they are getting reacquainted.  He asks if she works and she says, “I’m a consultant for the Wild Palms Group” as quickly as possible, sliding right into, “two kids, huh?  I always knew you were daddy material.”  She’s come to see James, a patent lawyer, to find her son, who has been missing five years.
Dana, as noted, runs a clothing store and is at the constant beck and call of her mother, reminded by an assistant to pick her up a the hospital, where Dana jokes, “she’s just had her 57th face lift.”  Things get exciting for her when actress Bebe Neuwirth (“I loved her in ‘Magnificent Obsession’,” Dana coos–luckily there hasn’t been another remake of that sudser, so the future of “Wild Palms” hasn’t come completely true) to use the store’s bathroom.  “I’ve seen all your movies,” Dana bleats.  “I’ve used all your bathrooms,” Bebe replies, and everyone chuckles, except me for the obvious reason that is makes no sense
Who else would be playing Dana Delaney’s mother with the face lifts but Angie Dickinson?  “Never again, it hurt this time,” she clucks getting into the car. “Never again, see you in six months,” she tells the nurse as they drive off.  
At a restaurant with amazing monkfish and souffle, James has lunch with Ernie Hudson and recounts his conversation with Kim.  James is the only person in the restaurant to intervene when a patron is beaten up and dragged off into a waiting car.  “Hey, that was stupid,” Ernie tells James, for trying to help.  
We know for sure something isn’t right in this world when Angie Dickinson picks up her granddaughter, swings her around and asks, “am I the ultimate grandma?”  This after telling her grandson not to hug her too tightly or “I might unravel.”  Angie Dickinson, world’s greatest grandma?  
James sees a psychiatrist, Bob Gunton in one of the worst toupees in all of miniseries history, because he and his wife don’t have sex and he has crazy dreams (the rhino-in-the-pool thing).  He recounts his problems, including seeing old flame Kim Catrall and the episode at the restaurant.  “I was rooting for the attackers,” he says, which is why he feels it was so odd.  Bob us unmoved.
But it gets worse.  Back at home, Angie is tending to the boy, who tells her he had the dream again.  He also has the rhino dream.  “Tell anyone?” she asks, “Not even your dad?  You’re not afraid are you, darling monkey?  If you’re afraid of the rhino, the dream goes away and then you’ll be like everyone else and that’s the most terrifying thing in the world.”  Um, okay.  Reminder to self: never fear a rhino in an empty pool.
What the hell is going on?
Dana complains that her son, a young Ben Savage, is “closer to mother than he is to me,” but James tells her “that’s normal, boys pull away.”  From their mothers to their weird grandmothers?  Oh, and then Dana remembers to tell James that their so-far mute daughter has finally spoken.  “She said, ‘everything must go.'”  Perhaps she’s gearing up to be a furniture or used car salesman.  Dana uses this as a segue into trying to have sex with her.  I wonder if the Kellers got horny after Helen spoke her first word?

The first 20 minutes of “Wild Palms” have flown by, but I ask again, what the hell is going on here?

Once again, James tries to use pal Ernie Hudson as a sounding board, but Ernie makes a joke out of it before inviting James to a party with the always-mysterious line, “there’s some people you should meet.” Meanwhile, Dana is called to school where Ben has been in a fight after making family trees in class.  “What’s wrong with this picture?” she’s asked of Ben’s family tree.  “He’s left me off,” Dana realizes.

So far, “Wild Palms” hasn’t been great at anticipating what 2007 will look like (double-breasts suits are back).  The clerk in the LA County courthouse is smoking!  James is there to help Kim find her kid, but is told by the clerk that “the computers are down” and he has to look through boxes.  However, there are thousands and thousands of boxes, more than all of the people who have ever lived in LA total, it seems.  On his drive home (with more people being randomly beaten up), he spots his mother-in-law in a car with Kim Catrall and follows her to a hotel, where she invites him into a seminar she’s attending.  “This is not to be missed,” she insists.  The speaker at the seminar, which flings a whole lot of fake scientific language at us, is Senator Robert Loggia.  Yes, Robert Loggia of the pig noises in James’ dream.

As he’s talking, a samurai warrior rushes the stage and cuts him in half only the sword goes through air.  Want me to repeat that?  It won’t sound any different the second time.

“I’m not here, children, I’m a synthetic hologram,” Robert caws, to cheers from the room, a literal standing ovation.  “I have seen the future, and it is Channel 3,” he says before disappearing.  James and I seem to be the only people confused.  But, then James remembers this is the guy who invented a religion a few decades back and it sounds an awful lot like Scientology (called Synthiotics here).

A note to Scientologists: I’m only reviewing the miniseries, not your religion, so please don’t get angry and burn my house down.

The real Robert appears, swaps niceties with Kim and then talks to James.  “My father was a tailor.  Oh yes, not only Jews were tailors,” he says before recounting his father’s horrible demise to a man he’s just met for the first time.  He didn’t die from goons attacking his store, but rather “at a fire sale in an inferno.”  I think we’re supposed to be utterly confused here.  Anyway, this is not the kind of story one tells a complete stranger, but Robert does it anyway, ending it by saying he’ll never forget the sight, especially with a sign that says (let’s say it together, because we saw it coming as soon as he said fire sale) “everything must go.”

“All he’s saying is that there is more than one reality.  Does that make Synthiotics any different than, say, Buddhism,” Kim explains to a still-clueless James, as if she’s an expert on comparative religions.  No, of course, they are exactly the same.  Holograms fit right in with the concept of reincarnation.  Oh, wait, as I type that, I realize maybe…

By the way, this conversation takes place at a zoo, where Kim leads James to the rhinoceros.  “It takes 16 months to make one of those, can you imagine?” she asks, seemingly upset that it takes humans only nine months to do the same.  She then plants a gigantic kiss on her, an advance he has to rebuff.  “It’s okay.  You know what the Buddhists say, there’s more than one reality,” she repeats again and walks off.  Wait, I thought the Synthiotics said that?

When James and Dana show up at Ernie’s party, Bebe is there to greet Dana.  “What are you doing here?” Dana asks her.  “Using the bathroom, what else?  You were hilarious, I was going to call you,” she says, as if they are now best friends.  She introduces them to comic Nick Mancuso.  Bebe is doing work for Channel 3, but can’t say what because Dana grabs her to dance.

The next day brings bad news.  James cannot be made a full partner because of his association with Kim, who works for Wild Palms and the firm is involved in litigation against a subsidiary.  He quits in a huff.  Kim, in all black, shows up at the house to talk to James (where Dana is wearing all virginal cream to make sure we note the symbolism, as if that’s going to help matters).  She tells James that “a friend of mine had a dream about you and want you to visit him in Rancho Mirage” and hands him a drawing of, of course, a rhino, that she was told to deliver.

So, James goes to Rancho Mirage to meet Robert again, spewing Yeats quotes that James recognizes.  “You’re gonna make me fall in love with you,” Robert growls with a laugh.  So far, that may be the strangest line of all, and there haven’t been many truly normal ones.  “Do you know what the rhino is?” Robert asks.  “It’s all that’s left of the unicorn, a magnificent atavism, a remnant of ecstatic myth” and other strung-together nonsensical adjectives and nouns.  Wait, the rhino and the unicorn are related?  If Barnum and Bailey knew that, they wouldn’t have sewn that horn on a goat and caused all the animal rights activists to protest back in the 80s.  As expected the minute James quit, he’s offered a job with Robert.  “How about Head of Business Affairs at Channel 3 at five times your original salary?”  Dana is not thrilled about the offer, still brooding over ex-flame Kim coming to her house.

Of all people, one might not expect Ernie to fill in some information, finally.  He tells James that all of those kids that went missing in the 90s were part of a “recruitment for the Fathers,” apparently “Satanists,” according to James.  The Fathers and the Friends were rival political groups, but that’s as much as we learn before Ernie takes him to the beach house of eccentric Brad Dourif, who wears glasses that shine with lights.  James puts on a pair and flashes into a world where Brad and Ernie are dressed like servants at the Continental Congress.

WHAT?????

It gets more insane.  Brad, who was in a wheelchair before everyone put on the glasses, tells a story about how people came to kill him, but he played possum under his dead mother while the murderers had dinner.  Oy, my head is spinning, but I’m hooked, I must admit.  After introducing them to a woman who is in Japan but can enter the reality of “the web,” Brad dismisses them.  Ernie helps connect some dots.  He refers to Brad as the “Einstein” of this new world and Robert as “the P.T. Barnum.”

Our hammy slummers are up next, with Angie giving Robert a massage.  He demands that Nick be brought to him, though Angie detests him.  “What’s with you two, you are like a Punch and Judy show?” he asks.  “At least we know who Judy is,” Angie says and they continue as if that exchange made perfect sense even to them!  Throw inane scientific terms around, fine, that’s part of the mystery, but leave Punch and Judy in the 19th Century.  Anyway, Robert says he owes his life to Nick, who saved him from drowning, though Angie believes Nick pushed Robert in just to save him.

Speaking of Nick, he is at a Jack Nicholson film festival (surmising Jack must be in his 80s in 2007–a sloppy bit of writing considering it’s an easily-research fact that he would still have been shy of 80 in 2007) with his sister, but once he packs her off, she’s followed by a goon squad and Kim Catrall steps menacingly out of the chasing car.

As James leaves for his first day at his new job, Dana is once again bed-bound, as she has been for the past five days.  “The problem is you drink all day long and stare at the damn palms all night long,” James complains to a wife who sports perfect make up without having been out of bed yet.  He passes a kid selling maps of the stars’ homes and asks him where he got his body tattoo.  “Church of the Fathers,” the kid says blandly.  James is greeted outside the building by jovial Charles Hallahan and James spits out  few lines borrowed from bad stand-up about his this mammoth building and company were “hard to find.”  Charles shows him around, gossiping about employees (“his wife just left him…for his father”) and manages to evade every real question James has about the company.  Charles has been in prison, but he found Synthiotics there and turned himself around.  Ah, the first day at work, always a hoot.  Dana doesn’t even ask how James’ first day at work was, instead informing him she’s going out of town to meet “an old friend of the family from Kyoto, he’s founded a group…part of the underground, they call themselves the Friends.”

Totally inexplicable is a dinner, in formal-wear for Robert, Angie and Kim where they talk about things and people we don’t understand.  Angie tends to a man who is apparently her son, doing the Kaddish (the son, not Angie) and Robert belts out old pop his wearing a smoking jacket with palms on it.  Got all that?

Dana and James go to some sort of institution where Dana visits miniseries veteran David Warner, her father, living in hiding from Angie.  Institution or resort, everyone seems terribly happy there.  James bumps into his shrink Bob Gunton, whom he has stopped seeing.  Dana is there to find out if the Fathers have “taken my baby and given me the son of another…could they have done that?”  If he has an answer, we’re not privy to it, for the scene switches to David at the wrought-iron gate mutter, “I will come for you.  I will come for you all” as Dana and James leave the place.

The big show on Channel 3 is “Church Windows,” starring Bebe and James and Dana’s son Ben.  It’s some sort of sitcom with no set, but a studio audience surrounding it on all sides.  It’s both painfully unfunny and full of not-subtle messages.

Robert summons James to settle some legal affairs for him, going into a hysterical monologue that manages to chew whatever scenery he’s left from previous scenes.  Nick, who is fixated on his broken glasses, confronts Angie, demanding his sister back.  “You make me vomit.  How dare you come into my home and dictate to me,” she snarls at him.  He grabs her that and while he’s choking her, referring to her as a “dried-up monster,” he makes a lot of threats.  Next we see of Nick, he’s hosting his talk show, with Oliver Stone as his guest, in the background as James returns home to a slumbering Dana.

Making his entrance singing “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” in a really bad wig is Robert Morse, a friend of Robert Loggia and Angie’s, who has been summoned to help their cause.  Super-bizarre Robert  Morse is perfect for this hilarious roller coaster, because he’d been doing bug-eyed weird for decades by then.  He’s singing at the club where James goes to meet Kim, now flirting wildly with him.  Robert joins their table, toasting, “here’s to old love songs and New Realism.”  Salut!

Anyway, so as not to feel guilty about meeting Kim, James gives her some potential information about her missing son and then realizes he can’t follow his impulses with her.  “Dream carefully,” she tells him and drives away in her limo.  After watching Robert Morse’s act, that won’t be easy.  That dinner doesn’t compare to the one he goes to at Charles’ house where Dana and Charles’ wife Rondi Reed dance and tell jokes we can’t possible comprehend.  To the same soundtrack, Angie and a bunch of goons show up at Nick’s art studio.  Making puns out of his sister’s death, she then pokes his eyes out.  “My eyes, the bitch took my eyes,” Nick cries, as if he’s in a Greek tragedy.

The reason “Church Windows” doesn’t need sets is because it’s aired with a special television attachment that actually plays it in the viewer’s living room, more holograms.  That’s the first time “Wild Palms” has seemed actually futuristic cool.

Next to attack Angie is her own daughter, as Dana demands to know about “the Friends” and if her son is a plant.  Angie just gets all creepy-looking and all but laughs at her.

The problem with the hologram technology is that everyone wants it, so James makes a deal with the networks so they have to pay for it instead of someday just aping it and “doing it better,” as he informs a raging (what else is new?) Robert Loggia, who didn’t authorize any deal.  However, the deal makes sure Channel 3 will always be in control and Robert is mollified.  James the meets Kim, finally giving into his lust on the beach with her (a locale she sniffs shouldn’t be “public domain”) and between the kisses, she tells him they have found the man who abducted her son and she wants him to go see the guy with her.  During a make-out session, James obviously can’t say no.

The first episode ends with a montage of sorts.  There’s Dana obsessively going through pictures again.  Brad Dourif has his glasses on, Nick is blind and Robert Loggia celebrates his birthday with Angie, Bebe and Robert Morse (who, FYI, have four Tony Awards between them), cutting a giant cake bearing stained glass windows.  Meanwhile, Kim, James and the goons track down her son’s abductor on the beach, but Kim trips trying to kill him.  She begs James to catch up to him and do it for her.  He overtakes the man, his pal Ernie Hudson (from behind, we knew it had to be him because there have been no other black cast members).  “This is how it begins,” he says to James.

No, actually, that’s how it ends, at least the first part of “Wild Palms,” so far a hodgepodge of fancy words and howlingly inept acting.  Everyone here knows this is still network-sponsored claptrap and they have a whale of a time putting it over.  Chances like that are few!

Before we find out if James went through with killing Ernie or not, James is on his way to work and asks Kim why his best friend would have done with a thing.  “He was in love with me once,” she says dramatically, playing femme fatale in a movie no one else is in.  Apparently, during a time way back when she and James were together, those two had a fight, sending her into Ernie’s arms and he became “obsessed” with her.  He even went to work for Robert Loggia, but was caught stealing software and joined the Friends.  According to Kim, Ernie took the kid for “revenge, because he couldn’t have me!”

As another stall tactic, Charles gives James Mimeszine, a drug that allows for physical interaction with holograms, in this case, a barely-legal girl with a Miss Alabama sash.  He tries to explain it to Dana, drunk in the tub and not making much sense (or even full sentences).  It’s also a suicide attempt, though James doesn’t realize that until she slips under the water (anyone else would realize that a barely-coherent woman in a tub always means a suicide attempt).

James is kidnapped by Nick, Charles and Charles Rocket and taken to a tunnel underneath his pool, where they tie him up and urge him to join their cause.  They tell him his marriage was arrange and that his son is the equivalent of a genetic test tube baby.  There’s a lot more about the Friends and Fathers, veiled references that we’re not supposed to get.  Unfortunately, by this point, things are so clouded in mystery, and there are so many clouds, that I’m frankly losing interest.  Either reveal something big soon or it could be gone permanently.  James goes back to Bob Gunton to talk about it, ending with “I wish I would have seen the rhino.  That way, I would have known it was a dream.”

Hold tight, no explanations are forthcoming.  Instead, Ben pretends to be the kid selling maps to movie stars’ homes to get Charles to pick him up, an elaborate ruse that ends in a hotel where Ben zaps Charlie into paralysis.  Ben straddles Charles’ chest and tells him to back off James, with goons outside the door. He then opens up a kit of tools and tells Charles, “I’m going to do some cutting now.”

That other kid, Aaron Michael Metchick, shows up at the loony bin as Dana is packing to leave.  He disappears when Dana is distracted by a nurse.

James and Kim go to Robert Loggia’s, where he has an enormous Zen rock garden.  James thinks it looks like “dogs in the water,” which gets Robert to laugh, “that’s kick-ass haiku!”  It’s certainly not haiku and definitely not kick-ass.  Hell, it’s not even funny!  This rock garden exists only because Robert tells Kim and James they are going to Kyoto after “Church Windows” airs for the first time.  Dana begs to go on the trip and James finally has to quash that dream by telling her Kim is will be there.  That shuts her up.

It’s time for “Church Windows!”  Ben is jumping on the furniture in excitement.  Cue the holograms, so that the characters are walking around the family living room, with the laugh track behind them.  “Now we have begun!” Robert says, yet the umpteenth time that annoying line has been muttered.

We’ve spent so much time working up to “Church Windows,” to see only a handful of lines.  Instead, we jump to James and Kim, now fully as Natasha, but lacking a Boris, in Kyoto.  Kim, FYI, speaks perfect Japanese.  Oh, and wouldn’t you know, Robert Morse is performing in the sake joint in Kyoto.  Kim doesn’t need to speak much Japanese, because the man they are meeting speaks the Hollywood version of Asian English and also has a translator present.  And a sleazy gal pal.  Plus, the man knows everything, about Dana’s insanity and even about loony Brad Dourif.  The transaction doesn’t happen and the three Japanese go off giggling, setting Asian stereotypes in Hollywood back to the 1930s, but at least James gets the most honest line of the movie after they leave: “what the hell is going on?”  Unfortunately, in a snit about being used, he undoes that good by proclaiming, “this geisha is going for a walk!”  He tries his best to act this scene of anger, but Belushi ain’t much of an actor and there ain’t much to play anyway.

James is lured into a room full of candles where he is strapped to a table and the menacing Asian trio and others tell him bits of pieces of nonsense that, as expected, makes no sense.  Back in the US, drunken Rondi Reed, missing her dead hubby Charles, is escorted to Dana’s house to spew some slurred dialogue and make Dana wonder once again who the boy she’s raising is.  She confronts Ben, who admits to killing Charles.  Angry Dana goes to confront her mother, but before they can chat, Angie Dickinson starts punching her in the stomach.  Can this be the weirdest moment yet?  Angie issues a warning that Dana should keep her mouth shut and then clocks her big across the face and goes back to her luncheon pals.

For whatever reason you want to imagine, since the scenes are so incoherent by now it hardly matters, James goes to visit David Warner.  There is some Friends and Fathers crap, a bit of history and, after nearly the entire episode, we hear that Ernie is still alive, merely arrested.  I know, you forgot about him. We all did.  David’s speech is ultra-lofty, acting with his own brand of British aplomb, comparing the Senator Robert to Alexander the Great and giving James a shred of information about his father.

It’s discovered that Ernie has escaped from prison, using that old stand-by of a hologram in his place, Robert Morse terrorizes Brad with questions, a particularly bad rendition of bad cop goo…oh, wait, he’s playing only one cop.  The episode ends with James discovering a palm tattoo on his hand and Dana going berserk over it.

It’s not only Robert Morse who can perform here.  When James visits Robert Loggia, the latter is watching three Asian girls lip sync to The Supremes.  James asks Robert about his father, to be told he was “legendary for two things: the purity of his LSD and the fact that he was never seen in public without a tie.”  Both extremely helpful pieces of information, no?  Hey, in this world, that’s a lot!  Actually, there is more, because it was James’ father who came up a way to “free the mind from the body,” but he killed himself, in a gruesome way, because the first shot didn’t kill him and he had to wait ten minutes to shoot again.  WHAT?  At this point, I can only report what is said.  I’m as lost as you, but I’m REALLY beginning not to care, so someone needs to start talking sense soon!

Ernie returns to the Friends, telling Nick with the utmost insincerity, “I’m sorry about your eyes!”

James is converted to Robert Loggia’s ways once he’s given a beach house.  Dana tries to tell him he’s being bought and that they are being controlled, but James snaps that there is always a conspiracy and “you can either head for the hills or stick it out at the beach house.”  That should actually be a good line, but it’s not the climax of the whiny scene where the two continue to argue.

Dana’s old pal Francois Chau, who seemed like he might have been a friend to James back in Kyoto, arrives in Los Angeles.  He begs her to talk to James again, because James is the key, and should James not listen, “then you run!”  “Where are we going to run?  Where are we all going to run?  To paradise?” she asks, confused and forlorn.

Brad has created a special pair of glasses just for Robert Morse, whose philosophy, and I can’t make this up, is “where does a song go when it’s not being sung?”  The glasses send Robert into a world where he watches himself perform “All of Me” as he shoves his fist down the other Robert’s throat (yeah, it’s weirder than weird), killing Robert, at least one of them.

Francois brings Dana the news that David has escaped from the institution, so she rushes off to a gathering of the Friends.  She has to sit through a stage parody of Robert and Angie.  Even as some sort of war looms, at least they are laughing.  Brad, gagged, has to suffer through more threats from Angie, who forces him to wear a pair of glasses showing his beloved being killed.  But, it’s Robert who wakes up screaming, with Kim to comfort him.  Do you really care what he’s been dreaming?  I didn’t think so. He has a rambling monologue and then puts on a hologram trying to have sex with Kim, who is repulsed by him.  He accuses Kim of being in love with James.

Both feeling sorry for themselves, James and Kim have drinks.  Actually, this is one of the only real scenes in the movie so far, as they kind of remind us of the story a bit, the heart of it, but it’s all ruined when James takes Kim to a very bizarre bar, manned by a cross-dressing doorman.  Charles Rocket is the stand-up comic there that night and he launches into an act that bashes Robert Loggia and his ideas.  The crowd departs in droves listening to his truth.  The police raid the joint, but the let James go because he has the all-important palm tattoo.  He gets home to find Ben crying.  “Mommy left with a Japanese man!” he bleats.  “She what?” says James, so obviously fed up with this crap that it’s said in a slight mocking tone that isn’t that hard to figure.  Hey, he’s been fed worse over the course of the miniseries, so why should his wife disappearing with an Asian man rile him?  Naturally, Ben has totally played James.

Unsure of everything, James has a video conferenced session with Dr. Bob Gunton, who listens to a rehash of recent episodes without cracking up, telling James he must go to the police.  “There’s no police.  Maybe it’s the other way around, maybe there’s nothing but police!” James wails.

There’s a meeting of the bad guys and no one looks happy, despite being dressed in formal-wear out by the pool.  “I have got to stop eating.  I look like Cass Elliot,” Bebe complains.  Ben gets Kim all riled up, so she slaps him.  Even more upsetting is Robert’s announcement that he will be running for President and therefore marrying Kim for propriety’s sake.  Everyone chants.

Outside the Church of Synthiotics, where James has been chanting, Ernie comes up to him, pretending to be a homeless man (that’s the only disguise available?) to arrange a meeting where James can see his wife and daughter.  When he arrives home, Kim is there smoking nervously, to tell him her personal history (no one has bothered to ask this long, so why bother?).  If you insist on knowing, her father was a journalist who cost Robert Loggia an election, so he had her kidnapped and raised in the New Realism fold, everything else being a lie.  James seems most upset that she was “with him” while they were together.  That pissed Robert off, so he had Kim taken away and delivered Grace.  “Your marriage was arranged,” she informs him, adding the whopper that Angie is Robert’s sister!  “How could you do this to me?” James very selfishly asks.  “They did it,” Kim reminds him (good for you!).  Kim refuses to answer the question of whether Ben is his, so he grabs her and slaps her (that keeps working in this movie).  In mounting hysteria, Kim admits that Ben is her son, with Robert and yes, the babies were switched at birth, so no, Ben is not his.

This sends James off to confront Angie, who clucks, “the women in your life are going to hell,” to which he responds, “and you’re driving the bus!”  Oh, that angers her but good and she reminds him that he clawed his way into this life.  He sees Ben and realizes finally that they are not blood relatives.

James is supposed to Ernie at a specific locale (Forest Lawn, where his father is buried), but it’s Aaron who comes to fetch him.  “We’re hittin’ the yellow brick road.  What do you need?  A heart?  A brain?  Courage?” the kid asks?  At the same time, David invites Angie to dine in James’ pool.  Angie pretends still cares for him, but he wipes it away with “sounds like a Channel 3 soap.”  He admits, he’s still bitter. Ten years in the funny farm will do that to a man, even in the future.  The conversation is so demented, I can’t even quote the damn thing.  At one point, Angie admits, “I’m parched.  My brother loves the desert, not I…I want to taste you. To smell you.  To start the holy war all over again.”  Eh?  Run that by us again.  It’s all David needs to sweep her up in an embrace, but only so he can bite her during some negotiating.  Bleeding, she leaves spouting curses in Japanese.  This is by far the most ludicrous bit so far, not that any of Angie’s scenes make sense, but this one is the ice cream on to the top of the sundae.

James joins his friends in the tunnels underneath his pool, reunited with his wife and daughter (who speaks now and then), Ernie and even Nick though when Kim is captured and brought in, blind Nick chirps, “I smell…sea breeze and death!”  She’s there to tell James of Robert’s plans.  The key is still Brad, and David aims to go and free him, and if it doesn’t work he will “gut you in the street,” he tells Kim, lest it’s a trap.

David stages a raid so they can rescue Brad from the Senator’s clutches, losing one man as they save Brad and take him to the sea where he’s always been happiest and can then die.  Dana and her daughter go missing, unfortunately.  And Brad is killed.  So much for his grandly over-the-top acting.  We shall miss it.

Only one more episode to go!

At an enormous party, the wedding of Robert Loggia and Kim Catrall, Robert Morse croons “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”  James is there, trailed by a detective, whom he finally tells to “climb out of my life and climb back into whatever wet hole you call home.”  Angrily, James confronts Kim, as he wants answers to where his yet-again-missing friends and family are.  He decides maybe killing Robert would work.  Kim warns him against that, so he snaps, “have a hot wedding night.”

Aaron summons James to the movies (“Rebel Without a Cause,” though Aaron says “no one watches movies anymore, only TV”).  James only wants to know where his wife and daughter are.  James is led to a strange bar where he finds Nick.  Nick tells him David has Dana safe, but they can’t let James in on where.  Ernie is there too, but he’s so far gone from Mimezine poisoning, “he’ll be ringing the bells at Notre Dame,” soon, according to Nick.  Since this is delivered in a hovel that is all burn-out hippie and 70s rock, we’re supposed to link this to anti-war post-Vietnam suffering soldiers.  It’s not an obvious jump and completely out of place in the context (if there is any context left).

Next up, Aaron confronts Ben, trying to pull out some filial feeling in him, but then resorting to threats he knows will work.  “Once the ratings drop, they’ll sell your holographic imagine like a video game.  You’ll be a relic” he says.  The two have a ridiculous physical fight.

James and Robert Loggia have a wacky conversation where Robert tells James his mother was Japanese (explains Angie’s ability to speak it), well, “just a drop” and spent World War II in an internment camp.  Robert then attacks James, whose doctor removed the chip inside his palm tattoo without him knowing.  The camera starts to do nauseating 360 swoops around the two arguing and then James finally runs off shouting that Robert is “crazy!”  No way, really?

It’s now James’ turn to be beaten up and taken away by goons while the rest of the world watches without caring.  He is told Dana is dead and then given Mimezine because he doesn’t know where the all-important “chip” that he was supposed to have gotten from the Japanese is (he really doesn’t know).  This sends him into a googly trance that proves he doesn’t know where the chip is.  Oops, that’s going to be a problem.

Increasingly desperate Ben demands to know what his future holds, if he really will be a has-been after “Church Windows.”  Angie tries to placate him, but he accuses her of killing Dana and slaps her around with her sun reflector (just the kind of thing that would have been modernized by 2007, no?) and threatens her.

Expecting a big ending?  I don’t think there was much budget left.  Francois kills himself in prison, Ernie dies in Nick’s arms (like a religious painting) and the world finds out the truth, at least one part of it, when James forces a tech to cut into “Church Windows,” airing just before a big announcement from Robert Loggia to air the footage Aaron shot of Angie strangling Dana to death.  After that, James flees the TV station in his car, enormous glycerin tears running down his clearly-not-into-it face as he shouts for his dead wife’s forgiveness.

The biggest problem with “Wild Palms” is that it thinks it’s futuristic, but it’s trapped way in the past.  It does very little to pretend it’s 2007, while always doing its best to act as film noir, circa 1947.  The costumes, the dialogue, the way it’s shot, even most of the plots, are lifted right from 40s.  A homage to film noir isn’t a bad idea, unless you want your movie to be futuristic.  No one has given any thought as to what 2007 might be like, except that holograms can walk and people will be wearing formal clothing at all time.  The cars, minds and actions of everyone in 2007 are barely a consideration.  Science fiction is supposed to be legitimate fun, where the mind is allowed to run wild with “what if” ideas.  That’s all missing here.

What we have instead is gut-busting hilarity of the camp kind, if you skip over all of the pseudo-religious malarkey they toss at us (and it’s easy to do so, because it comes and goes and always seems to be spoken by the mad people, who render it immediately nonsensical).  The performances are all over the place, from James Belushi’s grounded one to Kim Catrall’s shout-out to Lana Turner or Robert Loggia’s shout-out to, hell, maybe Peter Finch in “Network.”  Don’t ask me what Angie Dickinson is doing, she’s in a world of her own.

As much as I needed break from Southern belles and World War II, it turns out “Wild Palms” is just too darn stupid to be historic.  

Categories: Adventure Miniseries

One Comment to “Wild Palms (1993)”

  1. PAUL GOLDSTON 8 October 2012 at 6:31 am #

    I BROUGHT THE DVD AND BUT READ THE BOOK FIRST AND GOT A THRILL OF THE MOVIE AND BOOK. LIKE V FOR VENDETTA CONSIDER THE NEW SCIFI MOVIE CALLED IN TIME IN WHICH ENJOYED MUCH I CAN HOPE THERE WILL BE A REMAKE LIKE TOTAL RECALL WITH COLIN FARRELL IN WAS BETTER THAN ARNOLD S. ITS ABOUT TIME . NOW IF 2012 WAS GOOD SCIFI YEAR , I CAN’T WAIT FOR SCIFI IN 2013 .


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