MOVIE REVIEW : 'Lunatics': High Imagination, Low Budget

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Josh Becker's funny and beguiling "Lunatics: A Love Story," which begins an indefinite midnight run at the Royal tonight, could have been made with its showtime in mind. It fits the midnight movie ideal: smart and outrageous. High in imagination, low in budget, it offers more substance than late-night audiences are accustomed to.

With considerable ingenuity and much comic pathos Becker brings together a pair of misfits made for each other. Theodore Raimi's Hank, a struggling poet and ex-mental patient, hasn't been outside his spacious downtown L.A. apartment for six months. Overcome by agoraphobia, he's given to various hallucinations, such as asylum doctors bursting through his walls to inject him with giant syringes--hence, he's covered his walls with aluminum foil (which also block those deadly rays he believes are aimed at him). Yet Hank longs for female companionship, even though he's able to imagine the scantily clad model in a lingerie billboard ad materializing at his side.

His misdial of a 976 number just happens to ring in a nearby phone booth. Huddled inside is Deborah Foreman's Nancy, a beautiful young woman convinced she's cursed--and a curse on everybody else. (For example, when a poodle she greets on the sidewalk is run over moments later when dashing into the street, she automatically blames herself for its fate.) Freshly arrived from Iowa with a young man (Bruce Campbell), who promptly ditched her and left her broke, she has taken refuge in the phone booth to escape a street gang.

Backed by a first-rate crew that includes cinematographer Jeff Dougherty and inspired, meticulous production designer Michele Poulik, Becker sustains beautifully all that happens to Hank and Nancy once she works up her courage to answer that phone. Becker has shrewdly invested both Hank and Nancy with a high degree of intelligence, self-awareness and goofy charm; as played expertly by Raimi and Foreman they're so endearing one can only hope that love has a chance to conquer all.

With Pontiac, Mich., standing in for downtown L.A. better than you could ever imagine, "Lunatics" (Times-rated Mature for some nudity, language) has some lurid, amusingly cut-rate fantasy sequences that are just right for the film's modest scale and intent; state-of-the-art Hollywood special effects would only overwhelm the film and spoil the fun.

'Lunatics: A Love Story'

Theodore Raimi: Hank

Deborah Foreman: Nancy

Bruce Campbell: Ray

George Aguilar: Comet

A Renaissance Pictures presentation of a Sam Raimi-Robert Tapert production. Writer-director Josh Becker. Producer Bruce Campbell. Executive producers Brian C. Manoogian, James A. Courtney. Cinematographer Jeff Dougherty. Editor Kaye Davis. Music Joe Lo Duca. Production design Peter Gurski. Art director-set decorator Michele Poulik. Sound Al Rizzo. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.

Times-rated Mature (some nudity, language).

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