top

Crossover
(a.k.a. Mr. Patman)

(1980)

Director: John Guillerman   
Cast:
James Coburn, Kate Nelligan, Fionnula Flanagan


Every so often from the press in my country, there is an article printed bemoaning how poorly Canadian films perform - at least in English Canada. In 2009, the share of the Canadian box office take by English Canadian films was only about 1%. And every so often in these articles, the idea of imposing quotas on Canadian movie theaters is proposed. After all, since the typical Canadian film gets barely released, that must mean Canadian theaters are not wanting to show them, right? Well, I'm here to inform those pro-quota people that they are wrong. For starters, when a Canadian distributor is willing to spend as much time and money as the Americans do when releasing movies in Canada, a Canadian films has no problem getting a wide release. Take Canadian movies like Men With Brooms, Mambo Italiano, Foolproof, eXistenZ, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, Going The Distance, Score: A Hockey Musical, Gunless, Goon, and How She Move - all these Canadian movies got released as wide as (or even wider) than Hollywood movies released at the same time in Canada. "But," I can hear those pro-quota people protesting, "the majority of English Canadian films only get released to an extremely small number of theaters, if any at all!" Well, the reason for that is actually pretty simple: The vast majority of English Canadian films are not commercial. Sure, they may get great reviews from critics, but their subject matter, tone, lack of recognizable actors in their casts, and lack of slick production values don't attract audiences. Canadian distributors know this all too well, and feel that they would just lose money heavily marketing and distributing these movies. And since the distributors can get the rights to a Canadian film very cheaply, and make a quick and easy profit by simply selling the television rights to these movies to Canadian TV stations forced to showcase Canadian content (even if there is no better option for these TV stations than these uncommercial movies), there is no incentive for distributors to release these movies to more theaters. (If you don't believe me, read this article.)

Obviously, a quota would not get Canadian distributors to give wider releases to the typical movies that are funded by Telefilm (the Canadian government's film funding agency), even though the theater chains would be screaming at the distributors for product. Now I can hear those pro-quota people exclaiming, "Well, quotas will encourage private funding!" Uh-uh. The reason that wouldn't work is because of two things: the high cost of making a quality commercial film, and Canada's small market. Say to make a commercial movie of reasonable quality that has at least one recognizable star (probably a washed-up star, but a star all the same) costs $5 million, and has a marketing budget of $2 million (the minimum you need to start to seriously compete with the marketing of American movies in Canada.) That's a $7 million investment. And let's be generous and say that the investors of that $7 million amount could get 70% of the money the movie grosses in Canadian theaters (the rest going to the theater owners.) That means the movie would have to gross $10 million just to break even. Most American movies don't make that much in Canada, especially those that are low budget, and television and DVD sales would fail to make up the difference. And non-American movies typically have a harder time making foreign sales. (When was the last time you saw a movie from Argentina or Portugal?) Anyway, I am sure now those pro-quota people are saying, "Okay then, what do you think will invigorate the Canadian film industry if you say that quotas won't work?" My answer to that is simple: Reintroduce the tax shelter system that existed for Canadian filmmakers in the late '70s to early '80s. And I know I am hearing shrieks and screams from the people I directed that answer to. They are probably saying stuff like, "That era produced a lot of junk movies!" and "Many of the movies that were made were never actually released in Canada or anywhere else!"

I will admit that those complaints do have some truth to them. But those problems only existed because the tax shelter system was so badly set up. Investors didn't care much about the quality or the commercial aspects of the movies they were investing in - they just wanted a 100% write-off on their investment. What I am saying is reintroduce the tax shelter system - but give it a Crossovermajor overhaul. Set up this rule: Any Canadian movie project will be allowed to use the tax shelter system if a distributor has already signed on and has guaranteed to release the finished project into a minimum number of theaters with a minimum number of advertising dollars attached - and make the minimum numbers for both amounts a substantial number. And set up a government-run agency that would enforce these rules and prevent distributors from later backing out of their agreement. All of this would force Canadian filmmakers to come up with movie projects that are both high quality and commercial, because they would have to attract a distributor. Simple, isn't it? Well, until that day comes, I will have to stick with reviewing Canadian tax shelter films from the original era. Crossover is one of those movies. It's a tax shelter movie that uses a strategy many tax shelter movies used - hire an American star, usually a star who was no longer as famous as he was in the past. In this case, the star is future Oscar winner James Coburn. Just a few years earlier, he was top-billed in major Hollywood productions like Bite The Bullet and Sky Riders, but in the next few years his bankability faded and he slipped into appearing in foreign and independent productions like Crossover. In Crossover, he plays a fellow known only as "Patman". In some unidentified city (yep, this is definitely a Canadian film), Patman works at a hospital's psychiatric unit where he is respected and thought well of by the patients. But it doesn't take long to see that his life may be as unsteady as many of his patients. He is juggling affairs with his landlord's wife as well as a fellow staff member (Nelligan, Eye Of The Needle) at his hospital. He talks out loud to his cat at great length. He thinks that someone is tailing him, even though no one else seems to see this. A patient commits suicide during one of his shifts. Later, he thinks that the staff member he's having an affair with dies in a car accident, but later turns up alive.

Clearly, Patman has more problems on his plate than most of us have had at any moment of our lives. But when it came to whether I was actually interested in what this guy was going through and if he could possibly find some path of recovery, I found myself mostly uninterested in what I saw. One reason for this was due to Coburn's performance. I happen to think that Coburn was a fine actor, and I've enjoyed him in other movies before. I also happen to think that he could have pulled off this particular performance as well, had the circumstances been difference. But whether it was due to Guillerman's direction of Coburn, or Coburn's personal problems interfering with his performance (it was around this time that Coburn's arthritis started to flair up, which subsequently sidetracked his career for a long time), or the reported major production problems that flaired up during shooting, Coburn doesn't nail this character down. The patients at the mental ward like this character, but you have to wonder why at times because he sometimes talks to them in a tone that sounds downright patronizing at times. This also extends to the relationships he has with two supposedly sane women - I saw "supposedly" because he is so often matter-of-fact with them and frequently missing anything resembling human warmth in what he says to them that it is a mystery as to why these women would be attracted to him, especially since he keeps referring to them by only their last names. I should point out that Coburn's delivery isn't always cold - there are a few times when he shows feelings of a more warmer nature to either his patients or the two women he's having affairs with. But this just makes his character inconsistent. Granted, it's made clear many times in the movie that Patman is missing a few marbles, but even viewers who are not doctors will see that his mental problems aren't schizophrenia.

Somewhat better are the other performances in the movie. Nelligan is believable as Patman's collegue and lover, who has dreams and aims to better her life and wants someone to come along with the ride. Nelligan is somewhat low key, but her soft character has genuine heart and is welcoming to the audience, especially with the brashness of Coburn's performance surrounding it. An anonymous Canadian cast acts out the remaining roles, and surprisingly all of them give their limited parts conviction and believability. This definitely helps Crossover to some degree, but it's not enough to save the movie, seeing that there are problems going beyond Coburn's acting. One big problem is the way the character of Patman was written. We never get a handle on his character. There are things about him that are vague, like if his occupation at the psychiatric ward is that of a doctor, nurse, or orderly - he does actions of all three occupations during the course of the movie. There are a couple of scenes where Patman visits a priest at a church, and it's revealed by the priest at one point that Patman had earlier lost his faith. How? And why is he visiting this church if he has no faith? We don't get answers to those questions, and you're left wondering why these scenes are in the movie. A bigger question that comes in the movie is just what is making Patman crazy. The movie may be trying to tell us that it's because of him working with the mentally ill, but if so, it doesn't succeed. Yes, there's one scene where a patient commits suicide on his watch, but that happens in the middle of the movie. Before that moment, and for the rest of the movie, the psychiatric ward comes across as a pleasant place to work at, with amiable medical staff and agreeable patients who do cute things like paint their faces white and wear funny hats they have pulled out of nowhere.

With "cute" stuff like that happening at regular intervals during the course of the movie, as well as Patman's deteriorating mental state, viewers will probably guess (correctly) that at the end of the movie, Patman ends up joining his beloved patients as a patient himself, something we have seen in countless other movies before. But the problems of Crossover go beyond an inconsistent performance of an off-putting character, as well as a screenplay that definitely needed some extra rewrites before going into production. Crossover is also not a very well produced movie. Although the movie had an ample budget, especially for a Canadian movie, you wouldn't know this from watching it. I have never seen a movie so gloomy-looking for such a long time. The interiors are poorly lit, even in the scenes taking place at the hospital, a place where good lighting is not only expected but needed. And just about every sequence that takes place outdoors was filmed during the night - we only get to see sunlight for a couple of minutes at most. There's really only one brief sequence that takes place in bright light, which made me wonder if this atypical lighting was supposed to add symbolism of some kind to the sequence. But I honestly could not figure out what, if anything, director John Guillerman might have been trying to say in this scene... or for that matter, for the rest of the movie. Is this a character study? A comment on modern society? A critique on the care of the mentally ill? Who knows. I just wondered instead how someone who had directed blockbusters like The Towering Inferno and the first remake of King Kong just a few years earlier got stuck with directing this anti-blockbuster movie. This movie is so wrongly made in so many ways, with the key roles of the making of the movie all bungled so badly, you'll be wondering if this movie isn't an example of the expression, "The lunatics taking over the asylum."

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Bite The Bullet, Paper Mask, Skeletons

homeindexgenree-mail