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The High Society: I-O Psychology at the Movies

Paul M. Muchinsky
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The other day I was thumbing through an I-O journal in our field. I began to notice that some of the terms we routinely use were, to be direct, rather catchy. I began to envision them having meaning which goes beyond our usage of them. In fact, some of our terms are so catchy I think they would make great movie titles. My mind then began to wander into the farthest recesses of divergent thinking. I developed movie plots and characters for my films. The reviewer in me even provided an assessment of each film. So readers, sit back in your chair, grab some popcorn, and let TIP take you to the I-O movies.

Range Restriction

The semibiographical account of Ted Turner's buffalo ranch in Montana. No longer content with a mere 600,000-acre tract of property, Turner seeks to expand his land holdings by whatever means necessary. However, he is thwarted from expanding to the west and north by the Environmental Protection Agency, to the south by the Army Corp of Engineers, and to the east by the Greenpeace Movement. Robert Redford stars as Turner who does not feel at home on the range. Redford continually fusses and fumes over being hemmed in by a bunch of liberal bureaucrats, and derives no comfort in 1having to raise his buffalo on a small spit of land the size of Rhode Island. A cameo appearance by Jane Fonda as a trespasser who pans for gold in the middle of Turner's range is amusing. Turner has no patience for gold-diggers, just as you will have no patience with this trite, self-absorbed soliloquy. Just how big of a range does one person need, anyway?

2 stars

1 Offended, unamused, or entertained readers can contact the author at pmmuchin@uncg.edu

(Boss) Anova

Latin singers Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony make their acting debuts in this film. Given the popularity of Latin music and the resurgence of interest in ballroom dancing, it was just a matter of time until such a film was made. The movie is about a brief but influential time period in the evolution of Latin music. After the cha cha and rumba faded from popularity, the bossa nova was the rage in the early 1960s. Martin and Anthony represent the lead singers of two rival bands. However, there is conflict both within and between the bands, which ultimately leads Martin and Anthony to form their own group, the Latin Squares. The bossa nova sound emerges (best showcased in the hit single "Blame it on the Bossa Nova," originally recorded by Sergio Mendez), which makes listeners of the day forget all about the conga, manova, and anacova. Contemporary devotees of the lambada will appreciate the origins of their passion. The film has a relatively tepid plot, but the music is riveting.

3 stars

Psych Bull

Following the retirement of Michael Jordan from the Chicago Bulls, the franchise becomes a moribund memory of its past glory. Desperate for improved defensive play, the owner of the Bulls hires three motivational speakers to masquerade as new players who join the team. In so doing, the team will supposedly increase the rejection rate of opponents' shots. Snoop Doggy Dog, Ice T, and Puff Daddy star as defense-minded players who seek to inspire their teammates with clever rhymes. However, this hypothesis is rejected when theory meets reality in the form of Shaq O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Bodies fly and points score, exposing the trio as wannabes who fail to make a significant enough contribution to the team to warrant membership. Stilted dialogue, dumb plot, but good jump shots.

2 stars

Bandwith Fidelity

Set in the mid-1960s, this film chronicles the devotion of two twenty-somethings to rock-and-roll music played on AM radio stations. At this time stations are beginning the conversion to stereo broadcasts on FM, and this pair of trustworthy fellows cling desperately to the few remaining grains of sand in the monaural hourglass. They pine for a past of fading broadcasts gingerly educed from the AM dial of their '57 Chevy. Johnny Depp and Sean Penn convincingly play young men who yearn to remain old boys. The angst runs deeper than found in American Graffiti, and our pathos is palpable as we watch the helpless duo face what we know is the inevitable. The Shirelles never sounded so good.

4 stars

Median Split

Italian film director Roberto Benigni's attempt to show the dark side of middle age. Set in the Avese province of Italy, an average middle-class couple begins to fill their home with material possessions following the marriage of their only child. However, each spouse soon brings out a mean streak in the other. Neither is seemingly content with their growing stash, and neither approves of the other's mode of acquisition. However, it becomes painfully evident that their amassings represent little more than a central tendency to fill their empty lives with soulless objects. The couple faces the choice of dichotomizing their possessions or finding a new way to maintain their marriage as a continuous variable. Alternately sanguine and haunting, with a few moments of levity. A strong script but weak casting limits the power and effect size of the film.

3 stars

Meta-Analysis

Woody Allen's long awaited sequel to his classic, Psycho-Analysis. A hip Park Avenue therapist (played brilliantly by Holly Hunter) has been schooled in a new form of analysis. Rather than singularly focusing on Freudian-based sexual motives or dysfunctional cognitive processes, Hunter believes in the increased power of an eclectic approach. Hunter combines the client's values, dreams, childhood hobbies, behaviors, birth order, motives, and astrological sign into a curious admixture, and then somehow adjusts or corrects it to produce a "true" diagnosis of the client's condition. No fan of mind games, Allen skewers both the traditional methods of analysis as well as the avant garde. However, it is not until the end of the film where the audience discovers the "true" basis of Allen's sardonic humor lies not in Hunter's misplaced faith in this New Age nonsense, but the viewer's penchant to believe its results. P. T. Barnum would have loved this film, as will you.

5 stars

False Positives

Jim Carrey reprises his role from Dumb and Dumber in this light-hearted, light-weight film. Carrey and his buddy (played passively by Joe Pesci) possess a charismatic charm, which lands them in a wide variety of outrageous circumstances. The audience is somehow supposed to believe that these men could con their way into such implausible settings as being co-pilots of the Concorde, thoracic surgeons, State Department undersecretaries, Chinese acrobats from Taipei, and bearded ladies in a circus. While there are a few good sight gags, the underlying premise that different organizations would repeatedly hire such maladroits strains credulity. I thought you couldn't fake an intelligence test. Sorry, but False Positives is a true negative.

2 stars

Suppressor Effect

This is another film on the ad infinitum, ad nauseum resume of Jean Claude Van Damme. Would you believe Van Damme plays a bespectacled librarian in a tender love story? Of course not. How about a wrongly accused former Green Beret who likes to shoot up and blow up everything in sight? Now you know what this movie is all about without even having seen it. In this tasteless affront to celluloid, Van Damme eliminates everyone whose position is at variance with his. In his simplistic world, people are either true to the cause or are considered as social errors. Van Damme's job, of course, is to suppress the errors. And he does, over and over, in a myriad of ways, and never errs himself. preStallone and preSchwartzenegger, this idea may have had some appeal, but it has repeatedly been found lacking in value based upon its disassociation from reality. How many movies can you say are more banal than Godzilla versus The Smog Monster?

1 star

Burnout

The most recent disaster film in a series which includes Volcano, Meteor, and Earthquake. Martin Scorcese directs a star-studded cast that battles global warming. The entire planet is threatened by rising temperatures which are caused by an ever-widening hole in the ozone layer. An international conference is called among scientists who think they are really prominent. While all the participants are in agreement that noxious gasses are responsible for the crisis, there is no consensus as to the cause of the gas. Only two researchers, whose publications are not in prestigious journals, have unraveled the mystery. It seems the unrelenting posturing, preening, pontificating orations of the suffocatingly self-important researchers are poisoning the planet. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep must find a way to silence those who resolutely believe they and they alone can save humanity. Heart-pounding drama, great special effects, and many correction formulas.

4 stars

LMX

A love story embedded in a very unloving context produces an eerie juxtaposition that commands our attention, if not our interest. Naomi Campbell is the love interest of Denzel Washington, who works as a programmer at a military base in Kansas. It is not just any military base, but the top-secret command center for the Star Wars missile defense system, code name "LMX." Contrary to what we have been lead to believe, LMX is not just the stuff of theory and speculation. Quite the contrary, it is fully operational. However, Washington's mind is not on his job, as he often fantasizes about forming a vertical dyad with Campbell. An impending terrorist missile attack places Washington in the position of possibly including Campbell in the in-group who know about LMX. The film taunts the viewer with portentous contrasts of Armageddon versus Nirvana. However, in the final analysis the movie disappoints. What is supposed to produce tension through conflict only produces confusion. The casting is questionable, the plot is thin, the dialogue and the Kansas landscape are flat, but not the performance by Ms. Campbell.

3 stars

KR20

A high-tech thriller, which has you on the edge of your seat and leaves you guessing up to the last minute. A large multinational corporation staffs a group of nerds as a secret unit (KR20) to counter cyber-terrorism. However, it soon becomes apparent that the motives of KR20 are not internally consistent. An illusory and renowned hacker, who goes by the moniker "Alpha," toys with KR20, seemingly at will. Diligent research by a tenacious member of KR20 (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) suggests that Alpha is actually a member of KR20. When DiCaprio follows up on his suspicions, he learns that Alpha is a group, not a person. Furthermore, that group is KR20, making Alpha and KR20 functionally equivalent for all practical purposes. The action heats up when DiCaprio attempts to delete members of KR20 without adversely affecting its reliability, thereby tipping off the corporation which is behind the whole plot. A classic nail-biter whose taut and homogenous plot unfolds with each twist and turn.

4 stars

Organizational Justice

The third in the trilogy of films (following The Client and The Firm) by John Grisham. In this movie, a hardened and clinically depressed attorney (played by Anthony Hopkins) joins a large prominent law firm. Hopkins is at first bemused and then troubled over the lack of dissension within the law firm. Normally a contentious lot, Hopkins discovers that all of the lawyers in this firm are placid and congenial. His character further discovers that all of the firm's cases are settled out of court. Portraits of former associates who all experienced sudden, tragic, and supposedly accidental deaths lead Hopkins to discover the dark truth about his employer. In the belief that conciliation is always more profitable than litigation, this organization metes out its own form of justice to keep dissenters in line. Hopkins vacillates between thoughts of privately taking his own life, or blowing up the entire firm and taking 200 other lawyers with him. The audience openly cheers Hopkins on to follow one of these two options, creating a surrealistic interactive movie that will not leave the typical viewer disappointed. This film has been condemned by the American Bar Association. Stilted plot; a few slow periods; but a terrific ending.

3 stars


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