This 1986 Made for TV Movie Suggests Its Title Is an Oxymoron
Main Cast: Brian Dennehy and Christine Ebersole
Director: Rick Wallace
Well, that was something, wasn’t it? I highly doubt the 1986 made-for-TV movie Acceptable Risks would be the kind of DVD I’d grab off a shelf, or off a Netflix queue, and give a whirl. But here I am reviewing it. The only reason I own this movie is because it was part of a 6-movie set I bought for $5 called “Contagious Outbreaks”.
Having seen it now, though, it actually wasn’t terrible.
Brian Dennehy plays Don Sheppard, the boss at a Midwest chemical plant in a small town. When he learns the head office is considering phasing out Sheppard’s branch and shipping some of the work to Mexico where it will be cheaper to produce, this lights a fire under Sheppard’s ass and he orders an increase in production, as well as firing up the vats for a former product they don’t make at this plant anymore.
Things are going well for Sheppard, and the town. He’s got a new girlfriend in Lee Snyder (Christine Ebersole, The Wolf of Wall Street, “American Horror Story”), and the town has a new subdivision which increases their taxable income as well as providing tons of new jobs.
Then one day, through a series of unfortunate events, a chemical leak happens and the entire town is put on lockdown as several hundred residents die from the toxic gasses. It’s the worst case scenario for Don Sheppard, but just when it seems things couldn’t get any darker for our protagonist, they most certainly do.
Acceptable Risks was almost exactly the movie I had expected it would be. Coming from TV, and from 1986 TV at that, it’s got exactly the quality you think it does, only with a much slower pace than most other made-for-TV movies you may have seen in the last few decades. In fact, for this movies DVD run time of 91 minutes, the first 75 were spent seeing the townspeople go about their daily lives. More time was spent watching Don and Lee fall for each other in some very uncomfortable and creepy scenes than were spent on the climax of the movie. So what saves this one from being a total waste?
The final scene. I won’t spoil it here, but I came away thinking, “Holy crap, they actually went THERE!?!?” Even now, I’m still moved and a little shaken by the ending of this movie. I do wonder if this was the original aired ending, or if it was re-shot for a home video, and eventually DVD, release, because I find it hard to believe ABC television allowed THAT ending.
Does that ending make this movie worth it? I wouldn’t go THAT far. It is a shocker of an ending, but there’s still the other 90 minutes to get through first.
Dennehy plays the role of Don Sheppard pretty well. He feels like a boss at one of these places, only this one has an actual dilemma on his hands (none of the other employees know he’s stepping up production in an effort to save all of their jobs, they just think he’s being an ass) and truly seems to care about the employees as opposed to just doing what he’s told and shutting up. Can you tell I’ve seriously worked in similar environments for a while?
I have to question just how accurate these portrayals are, considering my experience, but for a movie like this, Dennehy pulled it off.
The rest of the crew at the chemical plant, most of whom are familiar faces even if you don’t know their names, feel pretty accurate to me, too. They all seem hard working, but definitely put upon and asked to give up their own home lives in order to keep production going.
In fact, for me, this movie was less a “horror” tale about a chemical outbreak that kills hundreds, and more a slice of life story about what it’s like to work in a factory. And it was pretty spot on, from what I could see.
I’m guessing Acceptable Risks was supposed to be some kind of cautionary tale of the times, but seeing how much of this movie was spent just on the day to day doings of the characters, and the fact the accident that unleashes the toxic gas was entirely an accident (that could have been prevented, sure, but I can also see something like this totally happening in any of the factories where I’ve worked–not the deadly poison and hundreds killed, I mean the mix-up and the rushed scheduling that led to it), and that it doesn’t happen until the very end of the movie, I’m stuck with little takeaway here. If there was a moral, it was buried WAY at the back and the movie was over before we got the chance to explore it.
C. Dennis Moore is the author of over 60 published short stories and novellas in the speculative fiction genre. Most recent appearances were in the Dark Highlands 2, What Fears Become, Dead Bait 3 and Dark Highways anthologies. His novels are Revelations, and the Angel Hill stories, The Man in the Window, The Third Floor, The Ghosts of Mertland and The Flip. He is writing another Angel Hill novel called Return to Angel Hill with co-author David Bain.