Well I guess we don’t have Alex Winter to kick around anymore. It’s dangerous to hit it big playing a dim wit. Unless you can follow it up with something interesting, everyone just naturally starts to think that you must have just really been an imbecile the entire time. Nobody really remembers who was “Bill” and who was “Ted” but everyone knows what Keanu Reeves has been up to recently. Every time Keanu defies the odds and stars in yet another big box office smash, some clever reporter thinks it would be funny to check up on his “Bill and Ted” co-star, who inevitably would be forced to issue the brave response that he was quite busy quietly working on future projects. His best defense being the mere knowledge that despite his wealth and fame everyone still thinks Keanu Reeves is a moron. Although, personally I think he deserves some credit for avoiding the “Speed 2” debacle and there’s nothing I love to giggle over more than watching him yell “I am an F-B-I agent!” to Patrick Swayze in “Point Break.”
Back to Winter who as writer/director here says he wanted “Fever” to “marry the youthful psychosis of Lindsey Anderson’s ‘If’ with the dreamlike atmosphere of Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu or Bunuel’s ‘Los Olividados.'” Uh oh … he’s gone high brow on us, and who saw that coming? “Fever”‘s star Henry Thomas (“ET”) knows a few things about hitting it big too early himself. Thomas plays Nick Parker, a 28 year old artist, who despite coming from a well bred family, can barely afford his tenement life in the slums of New York City. Thomas looks way too suburban to be hanging out with the drunks and the drifters, but that’s the point. He paints portraits of haunted souls and the way he’s perpetually smoking his Kools as if he’s desperately drawing his last breath tells you there’s something there that’s not quite right.
“Fever” is Alex’s Winter’s portrait of a haunted soul. Film is a great vehicle for conveying dread and madness and “Fever” has all the elements of a great ghost story. Gruesome murders, sleepwalking, rundown buildings seconds from being condemned, angry shrieking homeless drunks, spooky old women who don’t speak English, and an Irish drifter, who spouts nonsense about Gnostic conspiracies and the craftsmanship of Nazi daggers all underplayed to seem just that much more spooky. “Fever” plays like a character study of someone trying to figure out the latest M. Night Shmyamalan movie while going through heroin withdrawal. You know a guy’s in trouble when he has to tie himself to his bed at night, so hold on and enter the inner dementia of the modern down and out.
I suppose I’ve seen this all done before. You know the is he in danger or is he mad or both movie, but that doesn’t matter because it’s done so well, and what’s more fascinating than the inner madness of an artist? Chances are if somebody could have filmed Van Gogh’s dreams they’d be pretty spooky too. This is one of those movies that you could easily watch without the sound because every shot is it’s own uniquely framed oil painting each just a little bit off so you are never quite able to tell what is real, what is dream and what is madness.
The gigantic Bill Duke is a great choice as the homicide investigator, who isn’t quite sure what this uptown kid is doing in the slums and why he always looks like he’s about to pass out from exhaustion. The guy looks haunted himself almost like a stunt double for the Mayor from “The Nightmare before Christmas” even on his best day, but this is totally Thomas’ movie to carry. He appears in every scene and has to walk around in enough of a state of disarray so that every character in the movie can tell him how horrible he looks. It’s one of those roles where if he isn’t credible, this thing becomes a laugh fest in all the worst ways, but when he collapses in front of a police car and doesn’t wake up for three days you have a pretty good idea why.
I can’t say the ending was much of a surprise, but when the facts are finally penciled in the motivations seem legitimate and it feels like a journey that was worth taking. This is one of those arthouse movies that is worth the time it takes to slowly develop. So the next time someone sarcastically asks what happened to the little blonde guy from “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” you can feel free to respond that he wrote and directed a reasonably accomplished piece of paranoia with enough skill to merit further attention. Let’s hear it for the lost artists nobody expected to hear from again.