movie review by
Gary Johnson


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On the surface, EDtv appears to cover much of the same territory as last year's The Truman Show. Both movies give us stories that blur the boundaries between reality and artifice as a man's life is placed on television for the entire world to see. In EDtv, a cable television broadcasting company attempts to boost its poor ratings by putting one ordinary Joe's life on cable TV 24 hours a day.

The differences between EDtv and The Truman Show are substantial. While Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) didn't know his life was on display in The Truman Show, Ed (Matthew McConaughey) is fully aware that he's being filmed. While The Truman Show was built around a series of awkward moments in which we begin to learn how horribly sad and dissatisfied Truman is, EDtv eschews awkwardness except for comedic effect. While Truman's entire life was broadcast on television, Ed's involvement is only temporary (sort of like MTV's Real Life)--and thus the intrusions are much less traumatic. Heck, the intrusions can even be sort of fun, as long as you can smile after the camera catches you touching yourself during a half-awake/half-asleep moment.

EDtv is much like its main character--agreeable, pleasant, and not particularly profound. While EDtv is certainly fun to watch, its satirical barbs are nearly all aimed at easy targets: Rob Reiner plays the broadcast company CEO eager to claim all ideas as his own; Woody Harrelson plays Ed's brother, who shamelessly plugs his own investment whenever he's on television; and Elizabeth Hurley plays the starry-eyed actress willing to do whatever it takes (i.e., seduce Ed) to catch the eyes of a Hollywood producer. But these targets are paper lions.

Part of the problem can be traced to the screenplay, which backs away from the situation's satirical possibilities. Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have written agreeable, enjoyable fluff in the past, such as Parenthood and City Slickers. But EDtv required a sharper satirical vision that wouldn't hesitate to explore how life is altered by the presence of a camera. Unfortunately, Ed is such a blissfully happy character that the camera's biggest effect is simply to destroy what should be private moments for Ed and his family--as when he learns the truth about how his parents' marriage broke up. Ed walks through this turmoil largely unaffected and unchanged--except for one thing: now he's in love with his brother's girlfriend (Jenna Elfman), and she wants nothing to do with the television show.

The movie still provides a few choice moments of reality modifying itself for the benefit of the camera, as when Ed walks into his parents' house and his mother (Sally Kirkland) sashays into camera range like a movie star making her entrance. However, most of the material largely avoids questioning the nature of an audience that has an insatiable thirst for real-life gossip and dirt. Ed's audience simply consists of people desperate to fill the voids in their own lives.

Director Ron Howard wants us to like these characters and enjoy the time that we spend with them. But unlike John Waters, for example, Howard has little instinct for examining the tackier realms of American popular culture. Howard's just too nice a guy for this subject matter.

[rating: 2½ of 4 stars]