Times Staff Writer

“Shadey” (Monica 4-Plex) is one of those strange, disastrous little movies that leaves you wondering how it ever got made--not to mention distributed or exhibited.

Wiry, curly-haired Antony Sher has the title role, playing a bankrupt London mechanic who decides to finance a sex-change operation by exploiting his extraordinary gift not only for reading minds but for actually filming other people’s thoughts and fantasies by placing a camera alongside his head. Naively, he offers his powers to a suave millionaire (Patrick Macnee) who, in his greed, makes a deal with steely Secret Service psychic researcher Billie Whitelaw, who has ideas of her own for Shadey.

Writer Snoo Wilson and director Philip Saville do not make it clear why Shadey, considering his abilities, is in such dire financial straits or why he’s so naive. We’re not even sure why he wants a sex change. From this poorly established premise, Wilson and Saville attempt a dark comedy of bizarre human behavior--and mild pacifist sentiments--that becomes merely morbid in its sheer lack of humor, imagination or energy. (A loony, bloody castration sequence is especially off-putting.) Also mired in this grim nonsense are Katherine Helmond as Macnee’s dotty wife and Leslie Ash as their beautiful daughter, object of Shadey’s desire, not as a man but as a lesbian.


The cast members are to be congratulated for their professionalism, and the dire circumstances do call attention to the ability of such veterans as Whitelaw, Macnee and Helmond to bring wit and style to material that has none itself. “Shadey’s” one laugh is an index to its peculiarity (it’s rated PG-13 for kinky material). When Macnee comes home to discover Helmond covered with soot, he complains to Ash: “You’ve let her eat coal--again!”

‘SHADEY’ A Skouras Pictures release of a Film Four International production. Producer Otto Plaschkes. Director Philip Saville. Screenplay Snoo Wilson. Camera Roger Deakins. Music Colin Towns. Production designer Norman Garwood. Costumes Tudor George. Film editor Chris Kelly. With Antony Sher, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Macnee, Leslie Ash, Bernard Hepton, Larry Lamb, Katherine Helmond, Jon Cartwright, Jesse Birdsall.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).