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Doing Time on Maple Drive
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Oh, the humanity!"
2 stars

Here's a whitebread weepie in the "Ordinary People" mold, directed by the guy from "thirtysomething" so you have a fair idea what you're in for here.

Doing Time on Maple Drive is notable mainly for two reasons: It contains Jim Carrey's little-seen dramatic debut, as the alcoholic black sheep of a suburban family; and, despite Carrey's subsequent success and the obvious novelty value, this 1992 TV-movie took forever to be released in any format on home video. (In 2004 a DVD finally surfaced.)

Not that you'll find much to sustain your interest aside from Carrey's surprisingly effective and almost totally atypical performance. Doing Time isn't really about Carrey's character. James B. Sikking, a former military man now running a restaurant, and Bibi Besch, who's neurotic about having the best for her children, are the parents presiding over three unhappy kids: aforementioned alky Tim (Carrey); aspiring writer Karen (Jayne Brook); and the youngest, Matt (William McNamara), the perfect son on whom his parents have pinned all their hopes.

Matt is set to marry Allison (Lori Loughlin), a beauty from a very rich family. Just one catch here: Matt's gay, and only wants to marry her to protect his folks from The Terrible Truth. Allison is a little curious as to why Matt never wants to boink her; she soon finds out he's got a serious-ass case of "It's not you, it's me." Then everyone else finds out too, and much heartbroken confrontation ensues, including a last-minute conflict involving Karen planning an abortion. Stop! Stop! Too much WASP anguish! It's not your's not your fault...

Doing Time was written by James Duff, who also wrote The War at Home, about an equally dysfunctional family dealing with the return of eldest son and Vietnam vet Emilio Estevez. Both screenplays end with explosions of guilt and a mixture of pity and contempt for the clueless parents who don't know that they're the main cause of their children's pain but boy, do they find out. The difference between family melodramas like these movies and works of art like The Ice Storm or Happiness is the difference between facile psychobabble and real writing, real understanding of human nature.

Carrey fans will be disappointed that his character pretty much gets lost in the shuffle. He's just a supporting player here. But it is undeniably interesting to watch him (A) attempting hefty dramatic stuff (and succeeding more often than not he turns in good, subtle, pained work here) and (B) not hogging the camera but instead blending with the ensemble cast; the movie is well-acted, if blandly written.

Anyway, if you want to see Carrey doing the angst thing two short years before "Ace Ventura," and long before his supposed "breakthrough performance" in "The Truman Show," here's your chance.

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originally posted: 04/12/08 02:22:52
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7/23/11 casey average tv fare 3 stars
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  16-Mar-1992 (NR)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2004


  N/A (PG)

Directed by
  Ken Olin

Written by
  James Duff

  James Sikking
  Bibi Besch
  William McNamara
  Jayne Brook
  David Byron
  Lori Loughlin
  Jim Carrey

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