18 1/2, 2022.
Directed by Dan Mirvish.
Starring John Magaro, Jon Cryer, Bruce Campbell, Richard Kind, Willa Fitzgerald, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ted Raimi, Lloyd Kaufman, Catherine Curtin, Sullivan Jones, Marija Abney, Alanna Saunders, Claire Saunders, Gina Kreiezmar, and Chris Quintos Cathcart.
In 1974, a White House transcriber is thrust into the Watergate scandal when she obtains the only copy of the infamous 18½-minute gap in Nixon’s tapes.
Set during the Watergate scandal, co-writer and director Dan Mirvish captures the paranoia and anxiety of the times with 18 1/2. Unfortunately, working alongside screenwriter (Daniel Moya), that mood is accomplished through a confused tone made all the more frustrating by its sluggish pacing and predictable plotting. That’s also a shame considering the tantalizing historical fiction concept, which imagines the missing 18 minutes of conversation that took place between U.S. President Richard Nixon, H.R. ‘Bob’ Haldeman, and General Al Haig (complete with amusing voiceover performances from Bruce Campbell, Jon Cryer, and Ted Raimi, the closest thing to a worthwhile payoff here).
Thought to have been deleted from existence, the tape has fallen into the hands of White House transcriber Connie (Willa Fitzgerald), who decides to meet with journalist Paul (John Magaro) to turn over the information. Meeting inside a diner, the script sets up an engaging dynamic between the two, unsure if they can or should trust one another while establishing other noteworthy details such as Connie’s unparalleled memory. Two solid central performances anchor all the makings of a nifty political thriller.
Once it’s time for Connie to show Paul what’s on the tape, that’s where 18 1/2 trips itself up and never quite recovers. Everyone involved is shifting to a comedic approach, as Connie and Paul need a player to listen to the tape but can’t find one. The quest takes the duo to a nearby hotel, posing as romantic partners to hide their identities and the nature of their mission, where they meet an assortment of essential characters, including the neurotically funny owner played by Richard Kind. Also present are a group of hippies talking up a Wonder Bread conspiracy and a married couple played by Vondie Curtis-Hall and Catherine Curtin.
What can be said is that the period details have a great effort put into them, but they aren’t enough of a distraction for how distracted 18 1/2 gets from its premise. One of the performances here eventually becomes grating, especially considering how prolonged the particular sequence is and how little it adds to the characters. The latter is more annoying since it’s telegraphed that most of these people probably aren’t who they say they are in the first place, so you’re left waiting for the story to drive itself through its painfully slow middle section.
Nevertheless, it all builds to a bout of craziness for its finale that never comes across as crazy as it thinks it is. If anything, it’s another segment hampered by the confused tone and try-too-hard twists. All that’s left to enjoy is the on-point ineptitude of the Nixon administration and how all the voice actors slip into those roles (if you do watch 18 1/2, I encourage watching with subtitles so you can focus on the tape itself and not the other lame nonsense surrounding it) and some admirable leading work from two performers who seem better suited for a more serious approach to this material. The first 15 minutes set up a far more exciting movie that Dan Mirvish abandons for something silly and transparent to an offputting degree.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com