Friday, September 01, 2023

Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose

"Gef the Dalby Spook” was probably the most famous fictional mongoose after Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Supposedly, some people actually believed he was real, but seriously, a talking mongoose with clairvoyant powers? Nevertheless, well-known paranormal researchers of the 1930s duly schlepped out to the Isle of Man hoping to catch a glimpse of the conveniently illusive weasel-like creature. The Hungarian-American Nandor Fodor was one of them. His increasingly absurd investigation unfolds in Adam Sigal’s Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose, which opens today in New York.

Lately, Fodor has been a bit out of step with his fellow paranormal investigators, because he has become more of a debunker. Nevertheless, his old friend and mentor Harry Price (famous for the Borley Rectory haunting, as seen in films like
The Banishing) insists Fodor needs to check out “Gef.” Frankly, Price’s account of his own investigation is less than convincing. He admits he never saw the mongoose with his own. Oh, and by the way, the daughter of Irving family, who own the farm where Gef supposedly lives, just so happens to be a ventriloquist. Despite his skepticism, Fodor agrees to make the trek, bringing his long-suffering and possibly torch-carrying assistant Anne, with him.

It seems like Sigal is striving for ambiguity on the question of Gef’s existence, but he never earns our agnosticism. Frankly, it all looks like a fortuitously timed hoax that coincides with Fodor’s middle-life crisis and possible nervous breakdown. It is hard to tell just what kind of tone Sigal was going for, because the film slips and slides all over the place.

However, if it was indeed intended as a comedy, the funniest part (maybe the only truly humorous segment) is the stinger, featuring the cast and crew unloading on Sigal’s unprofessionalism. Anyone who endured Sigal’s previous film, the messy island-of-broken-toys
Chariot, might like to add choice comments of their own.

By far, the best part of the film is Christopher Lloyd, who is charmingly eccentric playing Price. Poor Simon Pegg labors like a coal-miner working a double shift as Fodor, but Sigal’s script does not supply the material to support his conversion from Scully to Mulder. Minnie Driver always brings a lot of fresh energy to any film she appears in, but the role of Anne feels conspicuously tacked-on and tangential.

Frankly, the only reason many fans will be watching
Nandor Fodor is to hear Neil Gaiman, supplying the voice of Gef. He does sound appropriately eerie. I suppose if a mongoose could talk, he might sound a lot like Gaiman.

Sigal just cannot fit these pieces together and even at what should be a manageable ninety-six minutes, his pacing drags. This probably sounds like an eccentric lark, sort of in the tradition of the 1980s films Michael Palin made without Monty Python, but it is weirdly flat and inert. Not recommended,
Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose opens today (9/1) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.