Wil Wheaton and Lea Thompson star in Fish Don’t Blink, one of the latest releases in MGM’s Limited Edition Collection, an On-Demand line of DVDs. For Fish Don’t Blink, director/co-writer Chuck DeBus (Drive In (2000)) adapted Larry Eisenberg’s play, The Nautilus, into a screenplay with the aid of the playwright himself. Reviews I’ve found online of Eisenberg’s play deride it for an overall lack of plot, and the film version sadly fares no better.
Fish Don’t Blink follows Jimmy (Wheaton) and his “goofy” sister Clara (Thompson), who have run their family’s restaurant, The Nautilus, ever since their parents’ death. Jimmy, like George Bailey before him, yearns to see the world but just can’t seem to break away, tied to The Nautilus by his responsibility to care for the mentally-ill Clara. Clara’s ailment has left her stunted at the developmental level of a ten-year-old, but also endows her with hearing of superhuman proportions. Clara can hear a conversation between people a mile away and can even, so they say, hear the speech of her pet catfish, Charlie. Unable to cope with the needs of his sister and her regular panic attacks any longer, Jimmy determines to sell The Nautilus, place Clara in the full-time care of her caseworker Dr. Roswell (Dee Wallace), and get out on the road. If this doesn’t sound convoluted and meandering enough, a scantily-clad Vegas showgirl (Tonie Perensky) and her “friend” Pete (Richard Grieco) arrive at The Nautilus after their car breaks down. Jimmy and the showgirl Francis summarily fall in love as Pete attempts to fix the car, but it just so happens that Francis has come to The Nautilus with a vicious mob killer on her trail.
I’ve presented here a lengthy summary of the film to evidence that it’s all over the map narratively, never quite sure what it is or what it’s saying. That said, I even left out enormous narrative threads involving a sheister car dealer who decides to turn Jimmy’s land into a theme park and a self-important local police officer who teams up with the mob, believing them to be the FBI. The film hasn’t much to offer in the story department, but it’s ultimately made watchable thanks to the performance of Lea Thompson in particular. Her portrayal of Clara is by far the highlight of the movie, and Thompson proves that she is now at the peak of her abilities. Wheaton, admittedly the sole reason I watched the film in the first place, does what he can with the loose character provided him here, but there’s little that could have been done with role by most any performer. Surprisingly, Grieco’s role, though a decidedly small one, becomes quite interesting moving into the third act as a relationship blooms between him and Clara.
Every release in the MGM Limited Edition Collection opens with a disclaimer warning viewers that the DVD has been sourced from the highest quality existing prints but that they have been in no way remastered or restored. Given that Fish Don’t Blink was released in 2002, I surmise that no one would have noticed the lack of restoration had this disclaimer been omitted, because the ten-year-old film has yet to show any signs of aging. That is, unless you count the film’s Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, fish eye lens-heavy visual aesthetic, which was certainly dated as of the film’s release.