Mother Night - * * 1/2*

Intriguing drama about a American spy in Germany stumbles after WWII ends. Nick Nolte stars as Howard Campbell, a playwright living in Germany in the 30s. When war seems imminent, a mysterious American (John Goodman) recruits Howard to become a spy. Howard begins a series of radio broadcasts, where, as “The Last Free American”, he launches an anti-American, anti-Semitic diatribe. Encoded in his speeches, however, are secrets he broadcasts to the Allies. He manages to survive the war, but America refuses to recognize his role (in case they ever need to use similar methods again). Howard moves to New York under an alias, but fifteen years later, he begins to use his original name, convinced that no one will notice or care. However, he is wrong. Soon he is being pursued by neo-Nazis (who want to follow him), and the Israelis (who want to try him for war crimes). It is in this portion of the film that the story takes a largely divergent turn (thanks to author Kurt Vonnegut). Mother Night actually works better when it is somewhat serious, and if it could resolve itself in a consistent tone, the film would be much improved. However, once the film goes off track, it careens recklessly into blatant farce involving, among other things, a black Nazi, the reappearance of people thought dead, spies, counterspies, and a lot of unneccessary extra plot. There are a few divergent amusements here, but Mother Night is trapped by its framing device (the whole story is told in serious flashback), and so when the farce tries to go straight again, we are in for another jolt, and left to question if it was worth the ride.

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