The Vagrant

Recently I got the chance to check out THE VAGRANT, a 1992 dark comedy directed by fx wizard Chris Walas. Despite the involvment of a number of talented people–executive producer Mel Brooks, SCARECROWS screenwriter Richard Jeffries, and Bill Paxton leading a host of memorable character actors–the film sank without a trace almost immediately, bypassing theaters to land in home-video obscurity.

Paxton stars as an eager young business analyst who goes all-in on a house in the Arizona suburbs, where he hopes to start a life with his galpal Edie (played by Mitzi Kapture, inspiring many a SILK STALKINGS flashback). But Paxton’s domestic bliss is disrupted by the arrival of a disfigured vagrant–Marshall Bell, in a glowering performance–with little regard for his personal space and who sets off a comedically nightmarish chain of events.

THE VAGRANT suffers from a number of problems, chiefly that as a horror-comedy it’s never particularly funny nor scary–the humor too often veers into the cartoonish, and the scares are too safe with little payoff. Walas tries to keep the viewer guessing, suggesting that the vagrant may simply be a figment of Paxton’s imagination, but this element pops up too late to really stick, having already established the character as a reality. It also doesn’t work because we know so little about Paxton’s character; we don’t know what makes him tick, nor his deeper goals and desires, thus the audience has nothing invested to care about. And speaking of motivation, the vagrant’s reasons for his behavior end up being rather weak and random, and don’t make for many chills.

Ultimately THE VAGRANT can’t decide if it’s a paranoid thriller (or spoof thereof), a satire of the class distinction between the haves and have-nots, or a sardonic comment the nature of man. And while there’s a few bright spots along the way (in particular Michael Ironside as the dogged detective out to nail Paxton), it ends up being a vague stew of potential storylines in search of direction.

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