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‘Matinee’ (PG)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 29, 1993

John Goodman's vintage early-'60s shirts alone are worth the price of admission to "Matinee." It may be about the monster-movie shock gimmicks and the nuclear threat, but this affectionately detailed look back at pre-assassination days is also a virtual antique store for boomers: transistor radios, tetherball, fondue, monster magazines, Lenny Bruce records, Art Linkletter . . ..

Period-perfect and photographed in faded family-snapshot hues, "Matinee" isn't ironic or kitschy-coy about its period. Director Joe Dante sweetly celebrates 1962, a time when kids had names like Sherry and Dwight and Stan.

Fifteen-year-old Simon Fenton and his kid brother are among the kids who wait eagerly for the Saturday matinees of B-movies like "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" and "Panic in the Year Zero," pictures that cash in on the nuclear nightmares of their young audiences. "You're going to get bad dreams," warns their Everymom.

The brothers live on a Key West Navy base, and when President Kennedy announces the Cuban missile crisis, they take it more seriously than most kids -- their dad is sent to Cuba. When a girl rebels during a duck-and-cover drill at their school, she gets detention for a week. "They put Gandhi away for a year," she says.

Meanwhile auteur John Goodman has come to town to premiere his latest fright flick, "MANT" ("Half Man . . . Half Ant . . . All Terror!!!"), and he's busy rigging the Strand movie house with gimmicks such as Atomo-Vision and Rumble-Rama, arranging for PTA protests in front of the theater and stationing a "nurse" in the lobby to get waiver signatures (in case kids die of a heart attack during the show).

Goodman's got a million of 'em, and he's always on alert for a new gimmick. When he spots a stuffed alligator at a gas station, he thinks, "Wow! 'She-gator' . . . 'Gator-gal' . . . 'GALLIGATOR!' " Director Dante, who began his career working for shlock-horror filmmaker Roger Corman, clearly relishes this brand of showmanship, and misses movies' more innocent days.

Goodman is hilarious in the quasi-Hitchcockian trailers for his movies (there are also several inspired scenes from "MANT!," featuring William Schallert, Patty Duke's TV dad, as the dentist who inadvertently creates the monster). Off screen, Goodman is a cigar-chomping cheeseball, but he's got a heart of gold. Or at least bona fide brass. And he wears absolutely the best shirts, short-sleeved in not-found-in-nature colors.

As his leading lady/girlfriend, Cathy Moriarty is an amusing mutant hybrid of Faye Dunaway and Gena Rowlands at their most hard-boiled. And sincere Fenton is the nicest big brother in recent screen memory; he kind of resembles Bill Clinton as a boy. That, by the way, is "Matinee's" biggest and best gimmick: It casts actual kids as kids.

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