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by Jack Sommersby

"George Segal vs. Mad Bomber"
4 stars

Incorrectly categorized as one of the '70s' "disaster" films, this underpraised film is full of welcome surprises.

In the entertaining thriller Rollercoaster, George Segal gives a thoroughly winning performance as Harry Calder, a safety inspector pitted against a mad bomber who's setting off explosive devices on rollercoasters. The fiend is targeting major amusement parks in a scheme to force the big-money owners to pony up a one-million-dollar ransom, and he's threatening to continue his string of mayhem unless his demand is met. The FBI is called in, and, as usual in cinema, they make a mockery of things by doing everything by standard-operating procedure. It's only Calder, whom the bomber chooses to act as intermediary between him and the cops, and who is willing to think outside the box by getting inside the bomber's head, who has any chance of stopping him. And Segal plays him with both solidity and wit. Here is an actor usually cast in comedies atypically playing a big-budget movie hero, and it becomes him. Where most actors would bottom out their alert reserve and comic timing to play things "seriously", Segal invests Calder with decency that doesn't make you cringe and an often-wiseacre demeanor that contrasts well with the soft-spoken but malicious villain (adequately played by Timothy Bottoms, who diametrically defined trembling sensitivity six years prior in The Last Picture Show). When we first see Caulder, he's receiving electric shock as part of a stop-smoking treatment, and Segal's underplayed-pained expressions are nifty; when told he can stop if it gets too painful, he amusingly interjects, "That's what I'm paying for." It's an outstanding star turn, one that keeps things buoyant even when the director, James Goldstone, who has a penchant for shaping individual sequences and getting in and out of them, allows the middle section to sag a bit, which is kind of a liability being that it's the centerpiece of the film: Calder carrying a bomb while following the bomber's instructions to drop off the money in a crowded park. Still, he's confident enough a director not to rely on overly-dizzying camerawork, frenzied pacing, and an over-the-top antagonist for pure sensationalistic sake. It's not every day we get a filmmaker who unselfishly serves the material while maintaining an above-average degree of competence that doesn't call undue attention onto itself for pure "Look, Ma -- I'm directing!" sake. (There's not exactly a distinctive visual interpretation on display here, but the widescreen framing is acute with Goldstone instictively knowing what to look at and how to look at it.) Granted, the supporting cast, which includes Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark, isn't as well used as Segal; there are one too many shrieky notes in Lalo Schifrin's otherwise-fine score; a couple of facile contrivances come into play; and the two-hour running time is overlong by about fifteen minutes. But these are mostly non-nagging flaws in a suspenseful and colorful film that possesses satisfying twists and turns to the story, dialogue that's above par for the course, and, most of all, George Segal gloriously keeping things on track with effortless aplomb.

For another great Segal performance, check out his performance as the filthy-rich stockbroker in Burt Reynolds' "Stick."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14713&reviewer=327
originally posted: 06/09/06 16:12:53
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User Comments

10/18/08 Ron Underrated 5 stars
2/05/07 action movie fan good thriller but nowere as good as the cassandra crossing 4 stars
12/02/06 David Pollastrini tHE SOUND SYSTEM WAS CALLED "SENSAROUND" 3 stars
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  10-Jun-1977 (PG)
  DVD: 27-Oct-1998



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