The Turning

Friday May 2, 1997

     "The Turning" exudes the fascination of the truly terrible, holding your interest to the very last frame out of curiosity to see if, as it goes along, it could get even worse--and it doesn't disappoint.
     Director L.A. Puopolo and playwright Chris Ceraso have taken Ceraso's play and shot it in a small Virginia coal mining town. Yet Puopolo directs his cast as if they were giving a stage performance, which means that the realism of the film's location not only ensures the artificiality of the entire endeavor but also shows up the many flaws in the basic material as well. The cast, which includes such accomplished actresses as Tess Harper and Karen Allen, can use all the compassion you can muster.
     Gawky 22-year-old Cliff Harnish (Michael Dolan) returns home unannounced after a four-year absence at the very moment his parents Martha (Harper) and Mark (Raymond J. Barry) are divorcing. A steady drinker and smoker, Martha is as much a mess as her modest house. Meanwhile, Mark is planning a new life with vivacious real estate broker Glory (Allen).
     Cliff, who is definitely weird, tries to prevent the divorce and, failing that, is determined to wreck Mark and Glory's chance for happiness. It seems that whatever happened to Cliff during his four-year absence turned him into a neo-Nazi and a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But he tells Glory, as he menaces her, that he's moved beyond them and is "branching out on my own." Some assurance.
     At every turn, "The Turning" is ridiculously vague. We get no real idea of what Martha and Mark did--or what happened to Cliff during his absence--that has turned him into a psychopath clutching madly at "traditional family values."
     How does it happen that in one scene Martha is despairing and almost the next she's pulled herself and her house together, having been giving a fast-acting infusion of "hope" by Cliff? How does it happen that Glory has no trouble at all selling a parcel of land to a White Castle franchise in a tiny community that shows every evidence of fading? What is a vibrant woman like Glory doing there in the first place? The questions go on and on.

The Turning, 1997. Unrated. A Phaedra Cinema release of a Leo Films production. Producer-director L.A. Puopolo. Producer William B. O'Boyle. Screenplay by Puopolo and Chris Ceraso from Ceraso's play. Cinematographer J. Michael McClary. Editor Lesley Topping. Costumes Natasha Landau. Music Herb Pilhofer. Production designer Mike Moran. Art director Gary Levinson. Set decorator Jennifer Baker. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Michael Dolan as Cliff Harnish. Karen Allen as Glory. Raymond J. Barry as Mark Harnish. Tess Harper as Martha Harnish.

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