- Darren McGavin as Van Conway
- Lenny von Dohlen as Mr. Smith
- David Margulies as Gil Hurn
- Joseph Bova as Lew Feldman
- Sheila King as Amy
- John Bennes as Loomis
- Dog Thomas as Grip
Mr. Smith is a cult follower of the failed 60's TV show MAX PARADISE and approaches Hollywood studio executives about recreating it, despite the reluctance of its now-alcoholic leading man Van Conway.
An extra-terrestrial race wants a production company to finish a cancelled television series.
Lew Feldman, an agent, is on the phone discussing ratings. When he hangs up the phone, he looks up and sees a man in a neat suit, carrying a briefcase and wearing sunglasses. He addresses the visitor as "Mr. Smith" and invites him into his office. Mr. Smith enters the office, sits down and tells Feldman that he is interested in speaking to his client Gil Hurn. Smith says that he and Hurn have never met, and then is interupted by Feldman who assumes that Smith has something he wants to tell Hurn. Feldman is dismissive, assuming that Smith is simply just a fan of Hurn. Smith, however, says that he has a business proposition for Hurn and that it has to be made directly to Hurn.
Just then the phone rings and Feldman tells his secretary to hold the call for him. He tells Smith that he thinks he looks like a good kid, but he does not allow business propositions to be made to his clients and all business needs to go through him. Smith says the only thing he can tell the agent is that the proposition has to do with a series called "Max Paradise." Feldman seems confused at first, and Smith informs him that this was a private detective series made in 1965. The agent seems to know the series and thinks that Smith is playing a joke on him. When Smith mentions that the "Max Paradise" series was cancelled in mid-season, the agent refers to the cancellation as a mercy killing. He also says that Gil Hurn is a giant in the entertainment industry and that he doesn't want to revisit any of his old failed shows. Smith says he wants to have a meeting arranged with Hurn and that he will offer substantial renumeration regardless of the outcome of that meeting.
Feldman assumes that the offer of money means that Smith is the son of a wealthy family. Smith, however, says that he represents foreign investors. He then opens up a briefcase that has eight gold bars in it that are worth $35,000. Once Smith is able to meet with Hurn, the gold bars will be turned over to Feldman. The agent asks if the gold is stolen, but Smith insists that it is not. Feldman is allowed to touch the gold, at which time he tells Pamela, his secretary, to hold his calls and get Gil Hurn on the line. Feldman chuckles.
Feldman, Smith and Gil Hurn are sitting in Feldman's office and watching an episode of "Max Paradise" on the television. The dialogue for the show:
Woman: You're okay, Max. Stay here with me.
Max: Well, I don't know if I am, sweetheart.
Woman: Will you come back?
Max: First I have to find what I'm looking for.
Woman: I think you found it already, and you don't know it.
Max: Maybe. But I still have to find that limping man. So long sweetheart, I'll remember you, especially at night.
Hurn turns the show off. He tells Smith that he was young when the show was made. Smith tells him that the episode they just watched is a great episode and one of his favorites. Hurn, however, thinks it is embarassing and he can't believe that he ever wrote it.
Feldman cuts in and tells Hurn that he thinks that they should at least listen to Smith's proposal. Smith wants Hurn to write and direct six more episodes of "Max Paradise," including a finale where the identity of the detective is revealed. Smith is willing to pay Hurn two million dollars in gold. Hurn, however, doesn't think that he can repeat the past and finish the story, since it was something he had done 20 years previous. Smith, however, disagrees.
Feldman continues to support Smith's proposal, telling Hurn that the money is there for the taking. Hurn still seems unsure about the project. He gets up and paces around the room. Hurn asks Smith why he wants "Max Paradise" to be revived and why at that time. Smith informs him that there are many fans who want to see a revival of "Max Paradise" and to know how the story ends. Although Hurn thinks that the character is corny, Smith insists that he is mythic and cannot be left wandering around without an ending.
Hurn tells Smith that there are a hundred reasons why "Max Paradise" can't be brought back. Both he and Smith agree that Van Conway is the only actor who will be able to play Max. Hurn says that the actor disappeared and is likely dead. Smith, however, has located Conway using the same method he used to locate Feldman and Hurn: by looking. Smith confirms that what Hurn has said is correct: Van Conway is dead.
Smith is in Van Conway's apartment while Conway is making a drink and talking about himself in the third person, being dead. Conway says that he doesn't want to be in the revival of "Max Paradise" since he does not want to act anymore. This is what Smith had meant about him being dead. Conway insists that if they film "Max Paradise" that the find a young actor to play the part.When Smith insists that Max can only be played by Conway, Conways asks Smith what business he is in. Smith is dismissive of the details of his own life, only commenting that he invents things. Conway says that Smith must not be a businessman because as an investment, "Max Paradise" is a dead duck.
Conway continues to refuse to play the part for several reasons. He is much older and works as a bar tender, plus he feels like he would look too terrible to be in front of a camera. Smith pays little heed to Conway's words and instead offers him some vitamin pills that he will have to take three of each day. Smith is insistent that Conway will not only take the pills, but that they will help him get in better shape and he will be playing Max Paradise again.
Two large metal doors opens and Smith walks through them into a movie studio. Hurn walks in behind Smith. The two look around and Hurn comments that they are in the studio that "Max Paradise" was filmed in and the place is still a dump. Hurn assumes that Smith thinks the place is a dump, but Smith feels that it is a great privilege for him to be in the room. Hurn is still dismissive, and feels that it is just a useless movie studio, not a shrine.As the two walk around the studio, Hurn comments on how strange it is that he always rememebers his failures. Hurn even shows Smith the spot he was standing on when he heard the show was cancelled. The show recieved only twelve letters regarding the cancellation. Hurn feels that no one cared when the show was made, and no one will care about it now that it is being finished.
Even as Hurn insults the show, Smith continues to praise it. He insists not only that he has an audience for the show, but that "Max Paradise" was the height of television art. Smith feels that Hurn took a simple television show and made it into art. He recites a line of dialogue word for word:
Max: Imagine on morning you wake up in a city you recognize but don't remember. Your mind is blank, everything seems familiar, yet different. The very way the sunlight reflects off the white plaster walls, the taste of the air, the smell of the water... it all seems different....strange...alien...
Hurn walks towards Smith, surprised that he knows that speech by heart since Smith could have only been a young boy when it aired. Hurn informs Smith that he had to forget the show because it was such a collossal failure and that forgetting "Max Paradise" likely saved his career. Smith tells Hurn that now he can finish the show, and he insists that Hurn has always wanted to.
Van Conway is sitting in front of a mirror, looking at himself. He asks Smith, who is standing beside him, what was in the pills that he took. Smith tells Conway that what the pills were is not important and that he needed them after so many years of drinking. Conway does not deny this, but he is still surprised at how much better he looks.Although he admits that he looks good in the mirror, he feels that the camera might not treat hiim as well. Smith insists that it will and that Conway's 'haunted' look is what made him the perfect actor to play Max both in the past and present. Conway finally remarks on how strange the entire situation is, but Smith immediately dismisses this. He feels that Conway is like a cat, ready to pounce, just as Max Paradise had to have been. They leave the dressing room.
Hurn is talking with Conway and others, explaining how the scene they are filming is going to work. It takes place in a diner on a dark highway. A character named Loomis approaches Max and thy talk. As Max, Conway nervously introduces himself as Max, a name he found on a private detective's license. Conway seems uneasy playing the role, and Smith looks on, serious but not concerned. The character of Max kept the name and forgot his own name. The only things Max did not forget were how to drink, drive and shoot because those are things that a man never forgets.
Although Conway's acting is uneasy, Hurn begins to seem like he is really invested in the work. He explains a scene to Conway involving a shooting and a limping man that brings back memories of the limping man already mentioned in the series. Hurn is very passionate while directing. Conway continues to seem uneasy, and eventually gets upset. In frustration, Conways says he cannot do the revival anymore, gets up and walks out. The other actor looks concerned, but Smith, looking on, shows almost no emotion.
ACT VIEditConway is in his apartment in the dark, with his head down and holding a glass of whiskey. Smith walks into the dark apartment. He walks up to Conway and sits down. Conway, annoyed, tells Smith to leave him alone. Smith, on the other hand, tells Conway that he understands what he is going through and it is easy to break under pressure. Conway asks Smith if he is a "shrink" but Smith doesn't understand what is eing asked.
Rubbing his hands together, Smith approaches Conway. He tells Conway to relax and then puts his fingers on Conway's temples. When Conway asks what Smith is doing, Smith tells him that he is doing something that will affect his brainwaves and remove his craving for alcohol. Conway seems alarmed and Smith tells him he is draining away all of his fear. When Smith finally removes his hands, Conway looks better.
Sitting down again, Smith tells Conway that he will come back to work clear headed. Finally, Conway asks Smith who he really is. Smith simply replies that he is Conway's greatest fan and he will not let Conway fail him.
Hurn and Smith are sitting in front of a camera watching film of "Max Paradise." The film is the new scenes with Conway. Hurn remarks that he did not think Conway could do it, but he did it word for word.
Later, on set, Hurn approaches Conway and sits on a bed next to him. He tells Conway that he work was great. Conway talks about how amazing Smith has been in not only believing in him, but by making everything seem important as if there really are millions of people out there who want to watch the show. Hurn is dismissive, commenting that the fans would have to be in Hong Kong or Korea because no American network is going to air a black and white show in the 1980's. Conway agrees that it is bizarre.
Even later, Smith is watching Hurn edit more film. This is followed by more scenes of "Max Paradise." The last scene reveals Loomis as Max's brother who was taken as a child. Loomis became obsessed with Max and ended up killing Amy, the girl he met earlier in the series. Max tells Loomis that if he kills Max, then Loomis will really be alone. Loomis tries to shoot Max, who dodges, and Max ends up shooting Loomis and killing him. Max then walks out of the room.
When the film stops rolling, Smith paused for just a moment. He then remarks that the finished product is perfect. While Hurn feels only that the endings "works," Smith is insistent that it is mythic.Smith rises and informs Hurn and Conway that he will be leaving the following day. Hurn asks when the show will air, and Smith informs him that it will be very soon. When asked where it will air, he admits it will not be in the USA, but in a place further away. He tells them to take heart and their work, their art will not have been in vain because it will be loved by millions. Smith says goodbye and leaves.
Conway and Hurn remain in the room, discussing what has just happened. Hurn asks Conway what is going on, assuming Conway knows something that he does not know. The two go for a walk. Conway tells Hurn that the place it is airing is 20 light years away. "Max Paradise" must have been picked up 20 years after it's original broadcast and the aliens were upset that it never finished.
Rather than challenge the bizarre idea that Smith was an alien, Hurn wonders why of all shows were they obsessed with "Max Paradise." Conway comments that it must be because they are wanderers, just like Max was. Hurn wonders what sort of people Smith's people are. Conway just comments that they have to be nice, gets in his car and leaves.