Monday, January 15, 2007

Willful Suspension Of Disbelief

While watching 24 last night, I started thinking about "willful suspension of disbelief," and how important it is to have one to enjoy the way-out plotting of that show. Every time I read or listen to somebody criticizing 24 for having plotholes, I think about how sad it is that everything needs to be so easily explained for that person to enjoy the show. Of course much of what happens on the show is ridiculous--that's the point. And, really, is the loose plotting of 24 really that much more outrageous than other contemporary shows? Do you honestly believe GREY'S ANATOMY and the CSI shows don't have silly plotholes? And those shows are supposed to be "believable." How many articles have you read about how CSI's approach to forensics echoes real-life crimesolving. That's studio b.s. For some reason, audiences accept when the LAW & ORDER lab techs are able to zoom in on and instantly focus a grainy convenience-store security tape to identify a killer's face, but it's supposedly unbelievable when CTU satellites instantly pinpoint Jack Bauer's location. In the 24 universe, it's not, and as long as 24 stays true to its internal logic, I have no qualms with its plotting. Unless Kim Bauer is chased by a cougar, is kidnapped by Johnny Drama, escapes, is almost raped, and becomes a hostage in a convenience store holdup, all within about three hours. That's too far, even for me.

I recently saw some real dandy stories on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. No one seems to have had any problem swallowing them when they were telecast in the early 1970s, but I wonder if today's too-cool-for-school viewers would let themselves be swept away by them. In "Kitara," the Impossible Missions Force infiltrates a West African country where apartheid reigns. A racist white colonel named Kohler (big, bald Lawrence Dobkin) captures a revolutionary (FOXY BROWN's Robert DoQui) and stores him in the prison sweatbox until he reveals where his group has hidden a stolen cache of government gold to use in their rebellion. The IMF's mission is to rescue DoQui and take Kohler out of power. They do this by...turning Kohler black! Using a drug and a special light bulb concealed in the colonel's bathroom, the IMF temporarily darkens the pigmentation of Kohler's skin. Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) and Doug (Sam Elliott, who was a series regular for 13 episodes), disguised as fellow officers, and Paris (Leonard Nimoy) in the guise of an old antique dealer convince the orphaned Kohler that he was born of black parents and has been passing as white all his life. Mann Rubin's plot works because the cast plays it absolutely straight--no winks to the camera as if to say, "Yeah, it's stupid, but go along with it"--and because the makeup is very good. Dobkin doesn't look like a white actor in blackface. He looks like a black man, and his performance is quite good too.

Even more outrageous is "Encore," which is probably the wildest plot MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE ever told. William Shatner and Michael Baseleon are gangsters in their 60s whom law enforcement has been unable to make a case against. So Phelps and the IMF decide to gather evidence in a murder the two men committed in 1937. Unfortunately, they don't know where the victim is buried. Phelps' plan: to knock out Shatner and convince him that he's still in 1937. Doug uses paraffin surgery to temporarily de-age Shatner 35 years; he even takes away his limp. The IMF redecorates a movie backlot to look like New York City in the '30s, right down to details like postmarked letters, buttermilk bottles and newsreels at the bijou. They force Shatner and an agent disguised as the younger Baseleon to recommit the murder, and when Shatner attempts to hide the corpse, IMFers Barney (Greg Morris) and Willy (Peter Lupus) find the skeletal corpse in the real hiding place in Manhattan. The amount of research, organization and funds that went into this crazy caper doesn't really seem to match the importance of arresting these two guys, but it is entertaining. Again, it works because of the performances. Shatner has a very tough role. It ain't easy making us believe that his character believes something so unbelievable has happened to him. But he does.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why does the International Monetary Fund care about murders and dictators?