on March 26, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
America's voyeuristic compulsions and an everyday Joe's 15 minutes of fame are the thematic foci of "EDtv," a palatable-enough story about an affable good ol' boy whose daily life is televised for a national audience. Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) is a video store clerk with boy-next-door good looks and a subdued Southern charm. These characteristics bring him to the attention of television program director Cynthia Topping (Ellen DeGeneres), whose brainchild is an unedited reality-based program that documents the life of an ordinary person. Ed, who is chosen to be the subject of the show, becomes a viewer favorite when just days after the pilot episode, he ends up romantically involved with Shari (Jenna Elfman), the girlfriend of his flaky brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson).
   Ed is constantly mobbed by adoring fans addicted to his show. The overwhelming attention weighs down heavily on camera-shy Shari, who eventually learns from viewer polls that she is an unpopular "character." Her decision to keep away from Ed until he can return to a private existence is one of several soap opera-like points in Ed's life that keep the audience fascinated with both him and his program.
   Although McConaughey provides a sympathetic and mildly amusing performance as the naive nice guy unprepared for instant fame, the film's few moments of genuine biting humor can be credited to the scenes depicting the hoopla that results from EDtv's popularity. From Arianna Huffington complaining on a televised panel that Ed "failed us" as a country for his sexual nonsuccess on a date to "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher remarking to guest Ray that his tell-all book about Ed "looks stupid," it is the slices of the really "real" that come off as the film's comical bright spots.
   That "EDtv" will be frequently and unfavorably compared to last year's "The Truman Show" is a given. And while "EDtv" defenders might contend there exists the central difference that Truman is an unwitting victim of televisionland and Ed is a knowing, and at first willing, participant, it would be a stretch to deny that the films' ultimate premise is the same: Private life as public entertainment diminishes the dignity of the individual put on display. Even the bad guys in both films could be identically described as heartless TV execs who strive to keep the show on-air at all costs, although Rob Reiner's media mogul in "EDtv" proves to be a rather generic and putzy nemesis.
   And the climax of both films is the inevitable showdown between the prisoner wanting to escape the jail of nationwide observation and his jailer attempting to keep him in the confinement of high-ratings live programming, but herein lies the major failing of "EDtv"--"Truman" or no "Truman." With a final confrontation so weak and cliche it makes one wonder if the writers were hurriedly finishing up the script to get to their next project or vacation home, "EDtv" leaves you with the feeling that you should have used the remote control some time ago. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper and Elizabeth Hurley. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Produced by Brain Grazer and Ron Howard. A Universal release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for mild language and sexuality. Running time: 122 min
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