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Buddy System, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Lightweight but Lovely"
3 stars

With a box-office take of only $1,820,049, it didn't set the world on fire, but you could do far worse in this particular genre.

For those willing to considerably lower their expectations in the desire to just sit back and enjoy some cinematic “basics,” you could do worse than the quaint The Buddy System starring Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon contributing passable performances portraying, fittingly enough, passably-written characters. Absolutely nothing in this romantic comedy-drama can boast even the tinniest semblances of distinction, and, cinematically, there’s isn’t a single shot that’s compositionally acute; what we have, rather, is best described as a “talking heads” picture that’s pleasant enough when the characters are simply speaking to one another and strained whenever the bare-bones plot turns mechanical. With considerable achievements like his Oscar-winning work in The Goodbye Girl to his credit, Dreyfuss is clearly working below his potential: as school-security guard Joe, who befriends friendless eleven-year-old Tim (Wil Wheaton), the son of Sarandon’s court stenographer Emily, Dreyfuss gets through the occasion well enough but not exactly with honors; for the first time, he comes as a wee bit wispy, as if he hadn’t totally committed himself to the role. (It’s neither sleepwalking nor enervation, just not firing on all cylinders that his remarkable alert reserve is capable of.) Still, he makes Joe an appealing blue-collar Everyman, who’s canny enough to have invented an elaborate home dog-washing contraption he’s trying to find an investor for, and also foolish enough to be easily seduced by his manipulative off-and-on girlfriend Carrie (Nancy Allen, wasted) who views his low-income self as expendable. Emily’s love life, too, is lackluster – cautious as to whom she brings home because of Tim, she’s looking for substance rather than flash, with the latter, unfortunately, the prevalent quality of the men she’s attracted as of lately. Sarandon, like Dreyfuss, is capable of a whole lot more, as she demonstrated in Atlantic City and Tempest, but she fills the role with as much truth as it can hold and plays off well with Dreyfuss as well with the charming Wheaton, who makes a fine acting debut without ever going precocious on us. The Buddy System is ultimately about realizing one’s potential (Dreyfuss with his inventions; Emily’s striving to be promoted to a superior court), and while the tired story structure is that of your typical TV movie, first-time screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue has penned some fine dialogue, and the veteran director, Glenn Jordan (who could never be accused of superbly shaping his scenes), gets us through the proceedings with efficiency (though he should have his wrists slapped for harnessing the ace cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti in that this is one mediocre-looking production.) With it being both unremarkable and pleasing, I mean no offense that this would be perfect in-flight viewing for the weary traveler.

While it's not exactly a benchmark in either star's resume, it has an innate sweetness that's hard to resist.

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originally posted: 07/23/18 05:16:42
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  04-May-1984 (PG)



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