Few creatures have ever had more to bark about and done less biting than "The Henderson Monster," a logorrheic jackanapes masquerading as the CBS Tuesday Night Movie, at 9 on Channel 9.
Writer Ernest Kinoy buries what might have been a plot under oddles of seasoned subplot and circuitous soul-searching about the fate of humanity in this mean and nasty technocratic age. By the end of the movie you are ready to tell humanity to go take a flying leap, if this kind of narcissistic soliloquy is the alternative.
There might have been a topical doomsday thriller in there somewhere, but "Henderson" follows the "China Syndrome" syndrome; it's about a horrible, terrible thing that almost happens but doesn't. In "Henderson," the threat isn't even made prominent. It functions as an incidental to a tiresome debate among the characters.
In one of the first scenes, the lab assistant to a molecular geneticist accidentally pours a potentially hazardous live culture down a laboratory drain. From there it could wreak pestilence on the world, but it doesn't even make the water taste funny. It is never heard from again, until 90 minutes into the story when the lab assistant asks, "Do you remember that culture I poured down the drain?"
Yes, we say, what about it? "Well," she might have said, "It's time to bring it back into the story." Some of Kinoy's dialogue has more flair and ginger than in most TV movies, but eventually you realize you've spent two hours watching a conscience-stricken writer preen and flounce on a soapbox.
Jason Miller is effective enough as the arrogant scientist Henderson, though it's frightening to see science personified as a flaming macho diletante. Almost all Henderson's chitchat in the opening scenes is about sex; he tells his assistant he just returned from "soaping" his "groin" and later cracks, "Give a woman a Ph.D. and she acts like she's had a hysterectomy."
The code words that he's evil incarnate come still later when we learn he is associated with foundations, corporations and -- get ready to hiss and boo -- "Oil Companies." Oh, one of THOSE!
Christine Lahti, as the assistant, has agreeable spunk and brass, and Stephen Collins does manly battle with all the obnoxious speechifyin' Kinoy has given him for the role of her husband, a downtrodden but idealistic drunk trapped in academia. As a lovable old lefty of a nuclear physicist, Nehemiah Persoff is supposed to be so adorable that we want pinch his cheeks. And so we do. With a monkey wrench.
These people all have one thing in common. They would rather jump in the Love Canal than shut up. Because what they say is sprinkled with words like "piquant" and references to Chekhov and Poe, and laetrile and Three Mile Island, some people might think the film literate and thoughtful. t
It isn't. It's an ornately decorated crock.