Tied to a Chair, which has picked up a number of awards from some of the lesser film festivals, opens May 27 at the Big Cinemas Manhattan in New York City. Among the awards garnered are Best Feature Film at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival and Best in Festival from the Heart of England International Film Festival. Written and directed by Michael Bergmann, whose other films include Milk and Money and Trifling with Fate, the film stars Bonnie Loren as Naomi Holbrooke, a seemingly scatter-brained middle-aged American housewife who leaves her British husband to pursue her dream of an acting career, a dream she abandoned when she married.
In a complicated plot that leads her from London to Cannes to New York in pursuit of a part in a movie being shopped around by one-hit director Billy Rust (Mario Van Peebles), she gets herself involved with a murder investigation, some local mobsters, and a terrorist plot. And although when the movie begins she is portrayed as a clumsy inept housewife who can’t even manage to use a microwave without starting a fire, as the story progresses it turns out not only is she an expert mechanic, she is also a champion stunt driver, a pilot, and quite an effective amateur anti-terrorist agent. Very much a screwball comedy of the kind you think of when you think of a Lucille Ball or Goldie Hawn, Tied to a Chair is a film where no matter how often the heroine seems to be making a mess of things, she manages to make everything turn out alright in the end, and remain a loveable clutz throughout. This is Loren’s movie. If you buy into her character, you will buy into the movie; if not, well there isn’t very much else. And while she may well be the best thing in the film and she did win the best actress award at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, she is no Lucille Ball. It is a bit much asking her to carry the film.
There is a large cast of characters, but most of them are simply stereotypes. There is a Jewish accountant for the mob, a mob boss who is funding a movie for his girlfriend to star in, a washed-up filmmaker looking to sell out for a buck, a gaggle of inept Arab terrorists, and a couple of semi-competent Keystone Kop clones that need a ditzy middle-age blonde to do their jobs. Moreover too much of the acting is artificial and stagey. Too often the actors seem to be doing little more than mouthing lines; they rarely get into the character. They are actors playing a part. Even a veteran like Van Peebles doesn’t manage to make his character come alive.
At the least Bergmann keeps the film moving at the kind of rapid pace that a film like this demands if it’s going to keep the viewer from thinking too much about the probability of what is going on. Instead of wondering about a strange woman showing up to give our heroine a hundred-dollar bill at an airport when her cash card won’t work, we are given an inventive comic car chase to watch. Instead of smirking over an improbable audition in a director’s hotel room, we can laugh at Loren clumping about bound to her chair. There is always something new to get your attention and distract you from the comic book nature of the action. There are some well-done special effects, and some nice location shots in New York City, but nothing so spectacular that it can make up for the film’s inadequacies. While it is true that there are some laughs scattered about through the film, more often than not the humor gets lost in the cliché character and the pedestrian performance.