Rating -

Comedy (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 122 Minutes

Matthew McConaughey:
Ed Pekurny
Jenna Elfman: Shari
Woody Harrelson: Ray Pekurny
Sally Kirkland: Jeanette
Martin Landau: Al
Ellen DeGeneres: Cynthia Topping
Rob Reiner: Whitaker
Dennis Hopper: Hank
Elizabeth Hurley: Jill
Adam Goldberg: John

Produced by Brian Grazer,Todd Hallowell, Ron Howard,Aldric La'Auli Porter, Michel Roy, Richard Sadlerand Louisa Velis; Directed by Ron Howard; Screenwritten by Emile Gaudreault,Sylvie Bouchard,Lowell Ganzand Babaloo Mandel

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Life in "EDtv" is depicted as something exploitative, because the people in society can be so dumb and ridiculous that they think television audiences are interested in watching their lives 24 hours a day. Thrown to our eyes is a man named Ed Pekurney, played by Matthew McConaughey, whose own lifestyle is intended by the screenplay to keep the audiences entertained for the duration of two hours. Alas, he comes off as a character that we have seen before, and one that has no reason to live in front of the cameras. The script wants to utilize the life of this character for the sake of ratings, but maybe the writer should have realized that, if people are colorless and dull, they have no lives worth exploiting.

Oh, the idea has worked before, but only when there is something refreshing about the material. One of the brilliant aspects of last year's "The Truman Show" was the character himself, who was frustrated and confused about what his life had become. And one of the more interesting things about "Pleasantville" was giving people of an old 1950s television show modern personalities and ways of thinking. Here, however, the director of "EDtv," Ron Howard, is at a loss with this dry script. It is tone-deaf, obvious, fabricated, suspicious, boring, predictable, and clueless when it comes to imagining a life in front of TV cameras. Part of the reason lies in the intent of the premise; it makes the mistake of giving Ed the knowledge that he is being observed by the cameras. Sure, people would like to be informed of when they are on camera, but don't you think funnier things could happen if they were unaware of it?

The setup begins when we are introduced to the executives of a failing network called "True TV." For two painful years, they have watched their station crumble under the influence of lousy entertainment and poor ratings. But suddenly, the programming executive Cynthia Topping, played by Ellen DeGeneres, steps up to the others with an idea that could possibly give them the exposure they so desperately want. Why not have a camera follow someone around for 24 hours so that the public can watch parts of their life unfold unrehearsed and unexpected? The network jumps on the idea and finds their lab rat in a video store clerk named Ed Pekurney.

Ed discusses the proposition with his family, and envisions himself gaining tremendous fame. He sees the hungry fans, the autographs, the world exposure, and all the media attention. Without even thinking, he jumps at the proposition and agrees to the network's demands.

Too bad. Not only does this experiment blow up in his face, but in the lives of the people around him as well. His girlfriend dumps him because there's no privacy in the bedroom. Suddenly, long-lost family members show up at his door to swallow some of the fame. Soon his entire life is a mess, and the whole television audience knows it, too.

The media has always been portrayed as a viscous force against people in the movies, and "EDtv" is no exception. Here, were given the executive Mr. Whitaker, a man so heartless and shallow that ratings matter and people's lives don't. Seeing the disaster created by 24-hour-a-day exposure of Ed, however, Cynthia Topping provides some relief in this shallow treatment of the anti-media theme. Seldom are there characters in movies like this that care about people rather than media popularity. Even though this is a woman who starts out with the intention of degrading human life for television ratings, she gradually sees the negative results and realizes that network fame isn't all it's cracked up to be. With that portrayal, the movie at least succeeds in some aspects.

I assume that the writers were contemplating the premise after seeing "The Truman Show." Critically and commercially, the Jim Carrey vehicle was phenomenally successful, especially for a summer filled with disastrous box-office blockbusters. Does that factor alone determine "EDtv"s failure? I don't think so. Some critics have said that the movie arrives too late to succeed, while some have said otherwise. The latter belief is more believable because "EDtv" and "The Truman Show" are two completely different movies. The Peter Weir picture wasn't about sex or macho men. It wasn't even about ratings. It was about a real human personality, who did not have the knowledge that he was being taped 24 hours a day. Ron Howard's movie fails because these characters know what is going on around them. And since they are aware of the situation, we can easily predict how they'll react, how others will respond, and how everyone will handle each situation.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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