'Roommates' with a cliched view

May 30, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Roommates" has a lot going for it: good premise, great cast, one truly touching scene.

But in the end it never comes together. The parts never mesh. And you're left feeling frustrated that producer Michael Filerman didn't take this project back to the drawing board before he started filming and come up with a script worthy of its promise.

"Roommates," which airs at 9 tonight on NBC (WMAR, Channel 2), is the story of two men who wind up sharing an apartment for people infected with the AIDS virus. One is heterosexual, the other is gay.

The heterosexual, Jim Flynn (Randy Quaid), is an ex-con on parole for bank robbery. The gay man, Bill Thomas (Eric Stolz), is a Harvard-educated professional.

Quaid and Stolz as co-stars, plus Elizabeth Pena and Charles Durning in supporting roles, make for an impressive cast on paper.

On film, though, Stolz and Quaid hardly ever click in their scenes together. Stolz plays his character super-low-key, which seems OK. But Quaid plays his character so far over the top he's almost cartoonish. It's a major disappointment.

Furthermore, the plot unfolds oh-so-predictably. The men in this '90s "Odd Couple" start out hating each other for a thousand reasons connected to how different they are from each other. But, guess what, they wind up really caring for one another.

What the script desperately needed was a twist or a few quirks to convince us we were dealing with real people, not character types.

Still, all of that said, the film's final big scene is so powerful that it almost makes up for all the failings.

The scene takes place in a cemetery, involves a lovely passage from Melville and is the one moment where Quaid hits the perfect note.

"Roommates" is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that it could have been, and should have been, so much better.

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