Its rarely screened companion feature The Chase is heavy and lugubrious by contrast, possibly because Penn was removed from the editing process by producer Sam Spiegel, or perhaps because its Southern Gothic material (penned by Lillian Hellman) is simply intractable. It's a sick-soul-of-America allegory that only comes to life when Penn can put a scene over visually, as in a drunken party that becomes a mock shooting match. Also of use is the generally fine acting by a large cast, of whom the standouts are less the big names (who include Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, and Robert Duvall) than some of the supporting cast. The forgotten James Fox is particularly good as the dissolute scion of the local dynasty, bringing to tarnished life a cliched part. Finally, there's Penn's post-hippie era Night Moves (1975), a disillusioned detective film with no solution and no heroes -- like the rest of America at the time. It screens Wednesday (May 20) at the UC Berkeley. Gene Hackman stars as the detective who just doesn't get it, a stand-in for Penn, perhaps, who didn't understand why America elected Nixon, even as Brando never comprehends just why he can't maintain the law in the same Texas that killed John Kennedy. The two or three films of any significance Penn has made in the 20 years since says volumes about both his limitations and ours.
-- Gregg Rickman
The Chase screens Sunday and Monday, May 24-25, at 2:45 and 7:15 p.m. (with Mickey One at 1, 5:15, and 9:45 p.m.) at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia). Tickets are $6; call 863-1087. Night Moves screens Wednesday, May 20, at 3:20 and 7:15 p.m. (with Robert Altman's California Split at 5:15 and 9:10 p.m.) at the UC Theater, 2036 University (at Shattuck) in Berkeley. Tickets are $6.50; call (510) 843-3456.