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Friday, August 6, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Putrid Humor Is Shameless In `My Boyfriend's Back'

Movie review

X "My Boyfriend's Back," with Andrew Lowery, Traci Lind, Bob Dishy, Edward Herrmann, Mary Beth Hurt and Cloris Leachman. Directed by Bob Balaban, from a screenplay by Dean Lorey. Aurora, Broadway Market, Everett Mall, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kirkland Parkplace, Metro, Renton Village, Seatac Mall. "PG-13" - Parental guidance strongly suggested because of grim humor, mild profanity. -------------------------------------------------------------------

Bob Balaban must be a very strange guy.

As a familiar character actor in such films as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Altered States" and "2010," the diminutive, bespectacled Balaban gave some memorably hammy performances, playing uptight scientists with a penchant for screaming outrageously intellectual dialogue. His tearful farewell to the HAL computer in "2010" was, ironically, the most human moment in the film.

In 1989 Balaban stepped into the director's chair and indulged his eccentricity with "Parents," an amusingly bizarre but altogether flimsy black comedy that mixed "Leave it to Beaver" with "Eating Raoul" in a story about a kid who discovers his mom and dad are cannibals.

Balaban's handling of that gross-out comedy got him the job directing "My Boyfriend's Back," and while one can begrudgingly appreciate his misguided attempt to create another twisted cult movie, this putrid chunk of waste - which runs a mere 80 minutes yet seems twice as long - must have been scraped off the scummy bottom of the summer-movie barrel. It's a wonder it was deemed worthy of a preview screening.

It's all about a nice-guy high-school senior named Johnny (Andrew Lowery) who has fostered a lifelong crush on Missy (Traci Lind), the local gorgeous overachiever, and will do anything to escort her to the senior prom. He's so desperate that he plans some fake heroics in the convenience store where his beloved works. But the scheme goes awry when he's actually shot and killed by the robber who was supposed to be his best pal wielding a squirt-gun.

Lucky for Johnny, he quickly rises from the grave, in keeping with local zombie legend, and everyone goes about as if nothing had happened. Except for the fact that Johnny is slowly rotting to his final rest, and the previous zombie's widow (Cloris Leachman, in the film's only interesting scene) informs Johnny that in order to stay alive until the prom, he's got to eat the flesh of the living.

This allows all varieties of grave guffaws, such as Johnny's ear peeling off when Missy nibbles it, or his nose propelled from his face by a sneeze. You get the idea. Heh heh.

The approach to this shamelessly juvenile humor is to let it all happen with little or no reaction from Johnny or anyone else. When "the dead kid," as Johnny is commonly known, returns home from the grave, his parents (gamely played by Mary Beth Hurt and Edward Herrmann) barely manage a lazy (and lamely unfunny) double-take.

Simply put, absolutely none of it works. The movie utterly fails to set a foundation for its dark fantasy, effectively turning every character into a moron. There's also a sorry subplot about a lunatic doctor whose attempt to create a restorative serum for Johnny may represent one of the most intolerably pathetic attempts at dark humor ever filmed.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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