Monday, August 8, 2016

THE RATINGS GAME (1984) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Olive Films
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 102 Minutes

Video: 1080p HD Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Danny Devito
Cast: Danny Devito, Rhea Perlman, Gerrit Graham, Louis Giambalvo, Vincent Schiavelli

Synopsis: The Ratings Game stars Danny DeVito as a New Jersey trucking magnate who’s only dream is hitting it big as a Hollywood producer. Luckily for him, he has a girlfriend (Rhea Perlman, TV’s Cheers) who works for the TV ratings service. Together they pull off a hilarious scam on television’s sacred ratings system. DeVito makes his directorial debut with this critically acclaimed satire.

The Ratings Game is a fun send-up of 80s sitcom TV directed by Danny DeVito who enjoyed his share of TV success in the 80s with Taxi (197801983). The movie is focused on an a very Italian guy named Vic DeSalvo (DeVito) who made his millions as a trucking magnate on the East Coast before moving to sunny Los Angeles in hopes of making it big in the TV business. Moving to L.A. he pens some uniformly awful TV scripts which are uniformly rejected by nearly every studio in town. However his luck turns around when he makes a pitch to an exec at the MBC network who has just been fired, the resentful exec sabotages the network by green lighting a pilot for DeSalvo's awful college sitcom 'Sittin' Pretty'. By the time the other network execs realize just what a turd the show is the pilot has already begun production and it is too late to stop the pilot from airing. TV exec Parker Braithwaiter (Gerrit Graham, Phantom of the Paradise) plans to bury the pilot by having it air during the World Series.

However, the crafty DeSalva is dating Francine Kestler, a woman played by Rhea Perlman who works for the TV ratings service called Computron. She is a woman scorned after having been passed over for promotion by her sexist boss (McCarthy), and together she and DeSalva hatch a scam to artificially drive up the ratings during the shows airing. The scam involves identifying and sending the families who own the Computron set-tops on an ocean cruise, and then sending in hired goons to watch his show during the pilot airing. The scam works and the show is a huge success, the network not only orders more episodes but also green lights another show, the animated sitcom The Goombahs. 

With his runaway success going straight to his head DeSalvo extends the ill-fated cruise for the TV ratings families which leads to all sorts of trouble for him and for his girlfriend, who increasingly feels remorse for her role in the ratings-fiasco. The movie is a fun send-up of just how awful the 80s were for prime-time TV, a decade of brain-dead broadcast TV and gets a nice skewering here, even if this one feels severely dated.

This marked feature-length directorial debut of Danny DeVito (War of the Roses) and it does feel rough, having been made for newcomer cable network Showtime it also suffers from that made-for-TV cheapness. The script is fun and the idea is actually genius, but the execution is a bit workman like with some serious pacing issues, while it does feel a bit clunky, I found that the premise holds up.

What made this so much fun for me aside from the winning premise is the cast of familiar faces who pop up, including Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) as network execs, Vincent Schiavelli (Better Off Dead), future Seinfeld stars Micheal Richards and Jerry Seinfeld, 80s funnyman Steve Allen, Alan Alda (M.A.S.H.) and of course Rhea Perlman (TVs Cheers) who steals much of the movie as the employee of the TV ratings service who partakes in the ratings-scam.

Audio/Video: The Ratings Game (1984) arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films framed in the original full frame aspect ratio. The image has a consistent layer of film grain and some vivid colors, but suffers a bit from softness and contrast issues, which are probably inherent to the source material. Other negatives include  dirt, debris and some minor nicks and scratches.This Blu-ray is certainly not demo worthy HD but it is nice to have this pay-cable TV movie on Blu-ray to enjoy after years of obscurity. Audio is handled by an English DTS-HD Mono with optional English subtitles. The fidelity is passable with a nice balance but is flat and non-dynamic.

Extras on the disc are substantial by the usual Olive Film standard, including a collection of four early short films by Danny DeVito. The Sound Sleeper (1973), Minestrone (1975), A Lovely Way to spend an Eveing (1983) and The Selling of Vince D'Angelo (1983). The latter two were segments from the Cable TV comedy anthology series 'Likely Stories'. My favorite is The Selling of Vince D'Angelo, a satirical look at a corrupt New Jersey businessman running for the Jersey senate.

Other extra include six-minutes of deleted scenes, a seven-minute making of featurette, a Showtime promo for the movie and a 22-page booklet with writing on the movie from Peter Chermin, plus images and promotional materials from the movie, and information about the short movies. 

Special Features:
- Collection of Rare Short Films Directed by Danny DeVito: The Sound Sleeper (12 Mins), Minestrone (12 Mins), A Lovely Way to spend an Eveing (14 Mins), The Selling of Vince D'Angelo (22 Mins)
- 22 Page Collector’s Booklet
- Behind the scenes featurette (7 Mins)
- Deleted scenes (6 Mins)
- Showtime Promo (2 Mins)

The Ratings Game is a fun watch, a biting send-up of 80s network TV culture from someone who lived through it as a star on Taxi. The movie is dated and the execution can be a bit rough but the idea and premise is top-notch and holds up nicely. The Blu-ray from Olive Films looks a good as can be expected from a made-for-TV movie from the early 80s with a wealth of extras to enjoy, glad to see this one rise up from obscurity and onto Blu-ray