The Odd Job (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hired to kill him.

            Arthur Harris (Graham Chapman) comes home one day to celebrate his wedding anniversary only to find that his wife Fiona (Diana Quick) is leaving him. He becomes so despondent that he decides to kill himself. He has a lot of problems doing it, but then he receives a knock on his door by a man (David Jason) looking for some ‘odd jobs’. Arthur decides to hire him to be his killer, but when his wife decides to come back Arthur is thrown into a state of panic trying to avoid being killed.

Normally I love British comedies and this one seemed to have all the ingredients to being a hilarious one, but it never gels. The opening bit where the couple is arguing and Arthur insists that they are ‘happily married’ even if she doesn’t think so is full of great English wit, but everything after that falls into a lull. The jokes become long and elaborate where so much time is spent building the set-up that getting to the punch-line becomes trying. The restaurant scene is particularly drawn-out and unfunny. The ‘zany’ chase sequence in the zoo is derivative and flat.

Quick was not a good casting choice as the spouse. She is too young and beautiful a wife for such a nebbish man. A good comic character actress who was more frumpy and dowdy would have been a better fit. Quick doesn’t show any comic ability, or timing as her affected responses and facial expressions become annoying and tiring. There is also no motivation for why the character decides to come back to her husband and although this is absurd comedy there still needed to be one otherwise the writing comes off as forced and sloppy, which it is.

Chapman doesn’t completely work in his role either.  It seemed strange that he would want to kill himself when a super-hot lady neighbor is more than willing to go to bed with him and even strips off your clothes and hops into the sack before he goes running off in fright. There is also the issue that killing oneself because your wife as left you seems extreme. Most men would probably celebrate if this happened to them and it is hard to relate to a protagonist that seems so pathetic. A stronger motivation, like having him killed in a staged murder, so his family could collect on some life insurance money would have been more effective. There is another part where the police become aware that someone is trying to kill him and for some reason Arthur does not tell them of the bizarre scenario when they ask him about it even though to me it made more sense to let them try to apprehend the man instead of continuing to live in fear of being killed.

The music, which is soft and melodic, was a terrible choice as it does not fit the quirky theme, nor complement the fast-paced comic scenarios. The tacked on ‘surprise ending’ is horrible and pretty much cements the film as a misfire. During his Monty Python days Chapman was famous for walking onto the screen and telling the audience that the sketch they were doing had become too absurd and would now end and I wish he had done that here.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG (Brief Nudity)

Director: Peter Medak

Studio: Columbia-EMI-Warner

Available: VHS

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