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A Billion For Boris
(a.k.a. Billions For Boris)
(1984)

Director: Alexander Grasshoff
Cast:
Scott Tiler, Mary Tanner, Seth Green


Though you probably don't share my intense interest in movies that are unknown, I am willing to bet that we share quite a few desires of another nature. I've talked about before that we all have desire for food, water, and shelter, but I would like to talk about another desire that I am sure practically all people on earth have. And that desire is for power, to feel superior to the people around us. I've had such a desire for ages; I remember as a kid being repeatedly told by a certain group of people that, "We're going to bring you the power," but being disappointed that ultimately the TV show The Electric Company was just talking about the power to read. I'm talking about real power, power that may be considered supernatural to many people. We've all had the fantasy that we were able to fly, have super strength, and other stuff like that. But I would like to talk about some specific kind of supernatural power that may sound cool at first, but with a lot of subsequent thought applied to these proposed powers, result in them coming across as less and less appealing with every new thought about what could happen. What I am talking about is time travel. I know I have covered time travel in past movies I have reviewed, so forgive me if I repeat myself. Time travel in any direction sure comes across to me as very risky. Take traveling into the past, for example. There were sure a lot of diseases in the past - what if you got one of those diseases when you traveled past? Also, it would be quite a challenge to disguise you were from the future the further back you traveled into the past. Even a jump of one hundred years in your home country would confront you with different lingo in your native tongue, and you might not be able to understand anybody. And don't get me started on you unknowingly doing something in the past that would change history, resulting in a possibly completely different world when you return to the present.

Traveling to the future also poses some risks. We don't know what will happen in the future, so who knows what kind of world you pop up in? Maybe a world full of Morlocks and Eloi, like what H. G. Wells wrote about in his novel The Time Machine. It sure seems risky to jump into an unknown world. But maybe there are safer ways to know what will happen in the future. What if you could stay in the past, but have the means to know what will happen into the future? This power could come from various means, from E.S.P. to having a device that could give you visual and audio data from the future. At first glance, this kind of power seems ideal. You could take advantage of it in various ways. For example, you could learn what sports teams will win an upcoming competition, and bet money on the team that will win. But with some thought, it doesn't take long for some potential problems coming up for people with this power to see the future. If you kept winning bets on sports teams, inevitably someone would notice, and they might come by your home to either "persuade" you to share your power or eliminate you. Another possible problem is what you would do if you were confronted with a deadly event that was to happen, from an apartment building fire or a terrorist activity. What would you do if you learned such things were to happen? If you were to do nothing, you would have it on your conscious for the rest of your life that you allowed the event to happen. And what if you decided to do something - how could you stop the tragic event from happening all by yourself without risking your power from being found out by the authorities?

These are just some of the heavy questions that whirl through my head when I think about the power to see what will happen in the future. Inevitably, when I think about this power, I come to A Billion For Boristhe conclusion that this would be a power that would be more of a curse than an advantage. Still, this does not mean I am not up to seeing a work of fiction that deals with such a power. A movie concerning this power has a lot of potential for entertainment as well as comfort seeing people having problems I don't have as well as hope I never have. The movie A Billion For Boris is such a cinematic look at this power, and it's an unusual treatment in several aspects. It's a movie geared for family audiences, based on a book by Mary Rodgers, the author of the classic children's book Freaky Friday. In fact, the novel this movie is based on was written as a sequel to Freaky Friday, involving the same main characters found in the earlier book. Those characters are teenage girl Annabel Andrews (Tanner), her young brother Benjamin "Ape-Face" Andrews (Green, Ticks), and Annabel's friend Boris Harris (Tiler, Once Upon A Time In America). One day, when Benjamin is being a pest while Annabel and Boris are playing video games, Boris gives Benjamin an old broken television set to tinker with. Benjamin manages to fix the television set - in a much better way than anyone would expect. When Annabel subsequently observes Benjamin knowing several things in advance like a rainstorm, she knows something is up. Confronting Benjamin, she soon learns that Benjamin has found out that the repaired television set is able to get tomorrow's television broadcasts today. Annabel promptly tells Boris about this, and Boris immediately sees dollar signs when he thinks about how he can take advantage of this opportunity. Though none of the three know that there will be complications...

If you took a look at the top of this page at the cast listing for A Billion For Boris, no doubt you recognized the name of one of the actors listed, that of course being Seth Green. Green was only ten years old at the time, making his big screen debut here. But there are two other people in the cast you may know. If you have well-preserved memories of Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, you may recognize Tim Kazurinsky. However, there is a bigger name in the movie. And that performer is Lee Grant, here playing Boris' mother Sascha, who had won an Oscar for her performance in Shampoo just nine years earlier. As it turns out, the movie did not revive her then sagging career, nor did it apparently help anyone else in the cast, at least right away. I will say, however, that the level of the performances by the key players in the movie are charming. Actress Mary Tanner didn't have much of an acting career after this movie, but her debut here shows a lot of spirit. Playing a fourteen year-old, she gives her character a youthful spirit that seems to have come from personal experience, though careful not to overdo things and become a caricature. She also manages to generate a good deal of chemistry whether she's paired up with someone her age or someone older. Her chief co-star Scott Tiler also manages to charm the audience as well. Like Tanner, he doesn't overplay his acting for the most part. He gives his character a kind of befuddlement at times that shows his character isn't a quick thinker. This weakness gives his character a vulnerability, and as a result makes him easier to relate to even when his character eventually starts to see dollar signs. He is not perfect, just like we in the audience.

Most likely the performance you are most curious about is that of Seth Green. Well, Green manages to show enough that explains why he later managed to go on to bigger things. He makes his character an agreeable child. Yes, his character does annoy his older sister at times, but even in those moments his tone is less obnoxious than you may think while at the same time selling the idea that he's an ordinary ten year old and not a stereotypical movie brat. As for Lee Grant, though working in a family movie must have seemed like a big comedown for her, especially since she only has about five brief scenes in the entire movie. But she does all the same give a good effort. Her character is written to be somewhat eccentric, even with her son Boris, and Grant manages to give Sascha a sometimes playful attitude while showing great conviction in her beliefs. It is kind of hard, however, to swallow that this nearly sixty year-old is the mother of a fourteen year-old, though that is not the fault of the screenplay. The screenplay does at least give most of the actors some good characters to work with. The character of Annabel may call her younger brother "Ape Face" at times, but also shows him some kindness, like taking him to the zoo. Siblings often do fight, but also make up. And Annabel is not stupid - it only takes a few actions by her younger brother to make her realize that he is somehow able to predict future events. And when Boris gets wind of what Annabel's brother has on his hands, while he immediately sees the potential of seeing the future, he doesn't immediately act. He does think about it for a while, and when he does start exploiting knowledge of the future, he starts small and slowly works his way up.

Unfortunately, when Boris gets it in his head to gamble, the movie starts to lose its grip on reality. There's an embarrassing segment when Boris dresses up in a really fake beard and manages to place bets on various horse races. This is bad enough, but eventually leads to a really contrived kidnapping subplot which is eventually resolved in a manner where nobody, even the police, asks some serious and obvious questions that would have put an end to the movie right there and then. This lack of asking obvious questions also extends to another subplot where Annabel starts to feed a struggling reporter (played by Kazurinsky) hot tips about crimes that are going to happen, and for some reason he never seriously questions his source about how she knows what is going to happen. There are other moments in the second half of the movie that don't ring true, even when considering the not yet mature mentality of the protagonists, like when Boris decides to completely redecorate his mother's apartment while she's away without telling her in advance. I think that even kids in the audience will sense with moments like those a strong air of unreality. I think that had the screenplay for A Billion For Boris had for the most part stuck with what would really happen if three youths had a television set that could get tomorrow's broadcasts today, the movie would have been a lot better for both adults and youths in the audience. In the end, while there are some nice touches around the edges, the core of the movie is simply very wrong-headed. But I had a good idea before watching the movie that my viewing experience wasn't going to be an overall positive one thanks to my television. No, I don't have a special television set that can let me see the future. A viewing experience in the past of the awful family movie Pepper And His Wacky Taxi - directed by the same guy who directed this movie - gave me the advanced word.

(Posted September 2, 2018)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Earth Minus Zero, No Dessert Dad, Star Kid

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