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'Moving' (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 07, 1988

It's a brand-spankin'-new world that Richard Pryor inhabits in "Moving," so new that the clothes and cars and other consumer goods on display here look as if they should still have their price tags affixed.

Pryor plays Arlo Pear, an urban engineer living in New Jersey with a family that is Cosby-fied to within an inch of its life. Things couldn't be more perfect for the Pears. Everybody's nice, everybody's well groomed and well behaved, everybody's pretty. So what if Dad and Casey (Stacey Dash), Arlo's Lisa Bonet-like daughter, have occasional fights over the car, or if in the early morning their borderline psychotic neighbor (Randy Quaid) cranks up the lawn-mower equivalent of an 18-wheeler or terrorizes Dad with a radio-controlled helicopter. Into every life a little rain must fall, and this stuff barely counts as dew.

But perfection never lasts forever. The monkey wrench is that a corporate takeover leaves Arlo unemployed, ultimately forcing him to pick up his family and relocate to another city. Which city? wife and kids inquire. Boise, Idaho, Dad answers, after first piling his plate high with mashed Idaho potatoes.

The movie, as the title indicates, is a comedy about the absolutely bone-chilling horrors of moving, and anyone who has ever had to go through the experience will certainly find the circumstances familiar. Then again, you may find them so familiar that the laughs catch in your throat.

They probably would anyway, even if you hadn't been through the relocation wringer. Granted, director Alan Metter gives some visual flair to the material, and some of the jokes -- such as the running gag of the seemingly comatose family pooch -- are pretty good. But pretty good is about as good as it gets.

All in all, the picture goes down fairly easily, and by any estimate it's an improvement over other Pryor nonconcert films such as "The Toy" or even "Brewster's Millions." Still, it's a curious thing that Pryor has turned himself into in this movie. The Richard Pryor on display here is a cleaned-up, shipshape, happy-face version of the performer we've previously known. Both literally and figuratively, there's not a hair out of place.

But without his anarchic rage, Pryor seems becalmed, blanded out. Watching him, what you think of are the hilarious caricatures of hopelessly square white people he used to do in his stand-up act. The movie seems to have been conceived as a kind of fantasy of contentment and affluence for the black audience, and its message seems to be, "Yes, it's true. We, too, can be as insufferably upscale and boring as whites." But is it conceivable that this is what black audiences want, to go to the movies to see black stars turn themselves into the Van Pattens?

"Moving" contains some profane language.

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