I try not to pre-judge, but this does not bode well . . .
- The opening shot establishes this as a European production which has been a bad sign, from The Miracle of Alice Aames in this series, to dozens of Ray Bradbury Theater episodes.
- It is from the writer of the aforementioned Miracle of Alice Aames, although she has a fine resume otherwise.
- It is from a director with no other American credits. No offense to foreign directors, it just makes her un poisson hors de l’eau.
- It stars our least-talented successful living American actor (regaining first place after the sad, untimely death of Bill Paxton), Elliott Gould.
- It is The Hitchhiker.
A white van pulls up to a French hotel and disgorges Elliott Gould and his gendarme body-guards. He might as well have come in a Mini Cooper for all the help his entourage provides. A room service waiter in the hall pulls a gun as they pass. Only Gould has the brains — am I really writing this? — to kick him down the stairs and pound his head into the floor. This, BTW, after they magically appear on the stairs via a botched edit.
In his room, Gould lambastes the “stupid frogs supposed to be protecting me.” While Gould is sometimes tolerable when he is just lumbering through a role, here he — God help us — tries to act. He chews out LeBreaux, the French cop, for their “frog talk” and reminds them they promised to keep him safe while he was “here to get me a new face.”
We get a few hints about why Gould is looking to change his looks other than the obvious, but you have to be smarter than me to put it together. Some guy named Palazzo was killed by a car bomb in the states. The sweaty, screaming Gould threatens to expose what Palazzo and LeBreaux “were up to.” He tells the cop, “You agreed to print that story about Palazzo if he would come here and give evidence for you!” Wait, is LeBreaux a cop or a reporter? Gould gives an extended buffoonish laugh that might be the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever seen on TV.
LeBreaux says, “OK, we’ll do it your way . . . for now” although I’m not clear on what that way is; or the other way. Gould — and why is he so sweaty? — says, “Now you’re being smart.” The camera is tight on the cop’s face and Gould’s grubby fingers creep into the shot to pinch his cheek. BLECCH, as Mad Magazine used to say. At this point, Gould is not just sitting down, he is slouched in the chair. HTF did he reach the cop’s face? Maybe these French directors is just too smart for me.
The next day, they go to see Dr. Renaud. Discovering the doctor is a woman, Gould rants, “She’s a dame? I don’t trust dames! They’re always flapping their gums at the wrong time!” Gould meets Renaud in her office and they have a very strange silence. They aren’t sizing each other up, they aren’t attracted to each other. It is just a long, weird lull like they were bored, waiting for the director to say “action.” Finally, she says, “Welcome to the institute.”
Gould is a complete dick, smoking a cigar in her office after she asks him not to. He demands they get started immediately on replacing his face and, really, who can blame him? Dr, Renaud tells him, “Here at the institute, we feel that cosmetic surgery is just one step in a much larger process.” He suggests they get down to business “before I shove this desk down your stinking throat!”
LeBreaux suggests he talk to Dr. Renaud alone. Gould says, “Well talk good, cop, or they’ll be fishing Palazzo out of the river!” That would be the same Palazzo that LeBreaux told Gould was killed by a car bomb? Christ, could anyone on this set read English? Renaud understandably does not want to treat a psychopath like Gould. LeBreaux tells her if she doesn’t do this, she could lose her government funding.
Gould is subjected to tests like he was trying to be in the Mercury 7 [sadly, the relevant Right Stuff clip is not on You Tube]. After a week of this, Gould puts his hand on her throat and tells her she better not be playing him for a sucker. Just repulsive. The doctor’s assistant walks in and he lowers his hand. He takes the opportunity to light up another cigar in the lab after spitting the tip on the floor. Just repulsive. Later, he starts feeling up Renaud’s assistant to unwind before his operation. Just repulsive.
That night, Gould sneaks in to Bloc 6 where the surgery will be done. He picks up a couple of instruments which look like a garlic press and a mixer to me, but I’m no brain surgeon; or chef. On the X-Ray screen there are a lot more shots of brains than you might expect from a cosmetic surgeon. He finds a room of men either bald or with their head in bandages. One of them repeat–edly asks, “Bon jour, comment tallez-vous?” I think they were lobotomized, but to be fair, Gould never answers him.
Gould decides to not have the surgery, runs oafishly out of the complex, steals the white van and speeds off. LeBreaux finds Gould and tries to take him back. Gould uses his one martial art — banging a guy’s head into the ground — and beats LeBreaux unconscious. Blah blah, some other goons knock Gould out and take him back to the institute for surgery. After the surgery, his head is bandaged like the men he saw at the institute. And:
- LeBreaux comes to visit, carrying flowers. Hunh, they’re suddenly bros? Or is it frères? Is this the beginning of a LeBreaux-mance?
- Gould’s personality is completely changed. He is now warm and smiling and friendly. Was he supposed to have gotten a lobotomy? I don’t think this would be the result. Why is he not like the other men?
- And why is the doctor so gung-ho about lobotomies anyway? It wasn’t just revenge against Gould — remember, there was a room full of these guys.
- There is a long, purposeful close-up of Gould’s eye which I don’t understand at all. I know lobotomies can be done through the eye-hole, but there is no indication of that. There is no tear which would indicate something . . . anything. It just seems random.
- The cop lights a cigar as he leaves, just as Gould had smoked them before. LeBreaux had only smoked cigarettes. Are we supposed to think that Gould and the cop switched faces? Clearly they did not, but why else throw that scene in?
Merde. Just a steaming load of merde.
-  Kudos where due. They exited the van with all the men wearing military garrison caps, except one wearing a fedora. I immediately thought they were idiots by making their charge so easily identifiable, but Gould was wearing one of the caps.
-  And maybe still do. Every 10 years, I’ll look at a current issue — same jokes.
- After some time back in the US, the titular hitchhiker is back in France. This guy really needs an AAA membership (remember, this was pre Google Maps).