1992 Directed by Charlie Peters. Starring Bob Hoskins, Blair Brown, Tim Curry, Frances Mcdormand, William Petersen, Pamela Reed, Peter Riegert, Maureen Stapleton, Nancy Travis, Jack Warden.
REVIEWED By Pamela Bruce, Fri., May 1, 1992
Wouldn't you know it -- fresh out of the hospital from a brush with cardiac failure, and Dad Scanlan (Warden, in a role that is almost -- excuse me -- a dead ringer for one he played in the 1980 comedy Used Cars) keels over with The Big One when the shock of a welcome-back-to-work party dropkicks him into the hereafter. Uh-oh, time to bring the Scanlan clan together to give Dad a proper sendoff -- even if it means having a houseful of misfits who really can't stand the sight of one another, and probably have decades-worth of bad blood to get out of their system while they're at it. Such being the premise, screenwriter Peters (Three Men and a Little Lady, Her Alibi) makes his directorial debut in Passed Away, which initially promises to be an engaging and humorous hotbed of familial discord, yet fades rapidly into an uninspiring experience more tepid than the conventional Saran-Wrapped Jell-O mold served at a wake. The problem with this film is that it has all the earmarks of being an ensemble piece, but Peters undermines its cohesion by choosing to focus exclusively upon the subplots concerning the characters portrayed by Hoskins and Reed (both of whom do manage to give worthwhile performances) instead of employing the whole bag of talent at hand. The fallout is that the rest of the actors are cheated out of valuable screen time and are not only unable to fully develop their own characters, but they also are unable to generate a convincing measure of chemistry with one another. What a waste: the great Maureen Stapleton barely qualifies as window dressing, poor Curry has all of five minutes to prove that he is still trying to escape the specter of Frank N. Furter, and Brown never has the chance to express herself beyond the level of boredom and frustration. On top of this wasteland is the assortment of cliches which are usually tagged as quick fixes of comic relief in depictions of death and mourning: the oily funeral director who barely speaks above a whisper, someone takes a pratfall into a freshly-dug grave and last, but not least, let's play “hide the body.” Just pass this one by, folks, because it's D.O.A.