TNC starts off as a cross between "MASH", "Cuckoo's Nest" and "Britannia Hospital", but not nearly as good as any of them. (Eventually it becomes "Rambo" before Rambo, but I'll get to that later.) A fear started setting in that this was yet another late-70searly-80s Vietnam-war-related flick, carrying some damn self-important hence deluded peacenik message about "how bad bad bad the Vietnam war was". Not another one, I thought, won't they ever tire of the same old bull? Still, to comfort and motivate myself to continue watching this, I figured I'd rather see a war-themed movie about a bunch of half-crazed loony-bin Vietnam veterans than Jane Fonda taking care of a wheelchair-bound soldier in some corny Oscar-winning schmaltz-fest.
Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that the crux of this story is not that the hippies, gullibleclueless students and their Marxist college professors had a valid point, but something entirely different: the age-old dilemma of whether God (referred to Wilson as "Foot") exists or not, whether there is reason to hope or to despair. In a nutshell.
Unfortunately, Blatty (writerdirectorproducer) spends too much time in the first half involving the new "shrink" Keach in pointless, usually tiresome dialogues with the patients, most of whom quote so much from literature, philosophy and science that one could get the impression that the US military drafted most of its soldiers from colleges -' which is of course not at all the case.
TNC takes a sudden turn for the interesting when the movie's major plot-twist comes into play: Keach is really just another patient, the notorious "Killer Kane", allowed to play shrink in order to try and cure himself of his guilty conscience. Of course, this is a totally absurd premise, but the movie had already treaded bizarre-movie territory, so what the hell. I had half-suspected that Kane wasn't a real shrink, given the empty stare on his face throughout much of the first half, i.e. something seemed to be afoot, and it was.
Sadly, while the second half is far more interesting, it also has TNC's absolute low point. It was quite predictable that before the movie was over there would be a moment in which Kane would "regress" to his old Killer-Kane self. And this is where the biker gang comes in: the moronic, over-the-top brutal, aggressive, violent biker gang that exists nowhere in the real world except in Blatty's somewhat strange vision of what "Bikerland America" must look like. This gang follows every cliché in the 60s B-movie rule-book about how to portray biker gangs. (Real bikers probably laugh or throw beer-cans at the screen whenever they see this kind of nonsense in movies.)
The leader of the gang is played by a guy who looks nothing like a biker, much less a biker leader, and who actually wears EYE-LINER. (Actually, he'd be better off cast as a beach bum in a silly sex-romp comedy.) Yes; Blatty, who must have been an old geezer by the time he wrote this novel, was utterly out of touch with pop-culture specifics so he confused the 70s glam-rock poser movement with the quasi-hippie biker-gang culture. This extremely silly, utterly fictional gang starts torturing Wilson, an event which predictably causes Kane to take matters into his own hands, but not before being tortured himself for a while, in a game which the bikers call "beach-ball". Wilson gets a biker penis stuck into his mouth, and this proves to be the final straw for Kane who then starts off a Rambo-like outburst of violence which leaves half a dozen bikers dead in its wake. I am no expert on biker gangs, but something tells me that gay sex is NOT high on the list of their "fun-to-do-things-when-I'm-happy-and-drunk" list. (So clueless is Blatty that the end-credits don't even refer to the gang members as "bikers" but "cyclists" instead!)
Eventually, Kane takes his own life, proving to Wilson that "goodness" in people truly exists, which in turn cures Wilson. To make the ending even more bitter-sweetly idealistic, Blatty allows the dead Kane to leave a sign to Wilson years later, just as Wilson had asked of him should Kane die first, proving that there is life after death after all. Wilson is overjoyed, and he smiles. Last scene; the end. Not only had he been cured years earlier, but now he can be a Foot-follower as well, just like all the rest. (Or nearly all.) The notion that "goodselfless" deeds prove that God exists is a rather naive one, but I'll let that pass. I suppose that is why Blatty needed Kane's sign from the grave, too, in order to cement the victory for the "God does exist" crowd.
There are moments in TNC that are intelligent, insightful or interesting, such as the patient who is "punishing the wall atoms" with a hammer for not letting him pass through it (evidently, this soldier had been well-informed about quantum mechanics and particle physics), or the scene in which Wilson finally reveals to Kane and the viewers what the real reason was for not aborting the Moon mission. TNC also has an excellent visual quality, so typical of the period during which it was filmed, so it's a pity that the movie's potential didn't amount to more. But, as I said, when you introduce an exaggeratedly over-the-top biker gang into your movie then all you can do is cheapen the end-product that way. Never use biker-gangs as a plot-device; never -' even in a comedy, let alone a drama.
And yet again Richard Lynch was hired to play a gay man. "Scarecrow", "God Told Me To", (and perhaps a few others?) and now this. How does a (casting) director look at Lynch and think "gee, he'd be ideal as a gay man"? I simply don't get it. But I guess it's the same moronic reasoning that gets Angelina Jolie cast as a professional killer or Sean Penn as an intellectual.
Review by fedor8 from the Internet Movie Database.