Tommy Oliver’s 1982 is about the dissolution of a relationship, but never lets us care about the people involved in that dissolution. Overly eager to get to the drama, the movie skips past necessary development, and as a result is a tedious and eventually unbearable picture where thinly drawn characters are either saints or sinners. There are only brief moments of respite where Oliver comes to an honest, powerful moment with the help of lead actor Hill Harper. But whereas Harper is one of the movie’s best assets, the picture can be laughable when a horribly miscast Wayne Brady enters the picture.
Set in 1982, Tim Brown (Harper) is living a good, honest life with his loving wife Shenae (Sharon Leal) and their adorable daughter Maya (Troi Zee). However, their happiness is quickly undone when Shenae’s ex-boyfriend Alonzo (Brady) gets out of prison, and lures her back into a life of serious drug abuse within the span of less than a week. Tim must struggle to support and protect Maya against the addicted Shanae and sinister Alonzo as more contrived situations rain down on the decent, hard-working protagonist.
The movie hints at giving the relationships time to develop, but the moment Brady enters the picture, things are already amiss. Obviously, the Chappelle’s Show sketch he did was great because Brady has a clean-cut image. It’s not just because he stars in nice TV shows. It’s because he has the look and demeanor to star in those shows. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for an actor in similar circumstances to break out, but because Brady already parodied the image he presents in 1982, every action recalls, “Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?”
Most of the other cast members blend into the background, but Harper helps provide the movie’s rare moments of humanity. While everyone else is either is falling into the film’s template of hysterics, Harper gives a quiet, subdued, and most importantly, restrained performance. Oliver is working so hard to go big and force drama onto his movie, and Harper is the soft-spoken buffer. He’s still stuck with a one-dimensional “goody-goody good” (a biting insult from Shenae), but at least he resembles a person albeit one stuck in a painfully overwrought story.
Oliver’s script goes from something that briefly resembles a legitimate personal drama before creeping towards melodrama (complete with slow motion) before becoming a full-blown soap opera that is jaw-dropping in its tone-deafness. Eventually, the movie reaches the point where the drama is so forced that we’re choking on the inanity. One moment in particular had me throwing up my hands only to have it followed by a reveal so asinine that I was rendered speechless. The writer-director is trying so hard to force big moments on what at its core is a human, relatable story that has no need for such outlandish plot developments.
1982 is a movie that hastily moves from setting up a real relationship before tearing it apart, and then slowly sinks into a morass of eye-rolling drama. The story tries to claw its way out, but only rips away at the last shreds of any honest human emotion. Permeated with problems both big and small, 1982 is a nothing but a tattered, tired, and irritating film that only offers a peek at something that could make the crumbling of a loving relationship pull at the heartstrings rather than screech across them.