The Man with Two Brains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brain in a jar.

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) is a world famous brain surgeon who accidentally hits Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner) one day while driving his car. He immediately does surgery on her and during the recovery the two get married. However, Dolores is only interested in Michael’s money and continues to see other men behind his back. Michael on-the-other hand  meets with Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner) who keeps live brains in jars in his condo. Michael (Steve Martin) begins communicating with one of the brains (voice of Sissy Spacek) via telepathy and decides it is she that he really loves. When he becomes aware that the brain will not survive much longer on its own he desperately tries to find a suitable body to transplant it into.

This Steve Martin/Carl Reiner production, which is their third project together, certainly has its moments and I particularly liked the the mysterious elevator killer although once his identity is finally revealed viewers today will have no idea who that person actually is. However for the most part the film is highly uneven. Having it centered as a horror movie parody would’ve given it better focus and the jokes more of a point-of-view instead of just throwing in any haphazard gag it wants many of which have nothing to do with its already paper thin plot.

I realize this is all meant to be a very silly comedy, but having two victims get hit by a vehicle, once with Turner and then later on with Stephanie Kramer, in her film debut, where neither victim shows any sign of blood, scratches, or bruising is a bit ridiculous. This is where if it had been approached as a horror/comedy then they could’ve thrown in some gore, but in an over-the-top goofy way, that would’ve allowed a new dimension for laughs while also given it just a smidgen of reality to it, which otherwise is lacking.

Martin’s ability to have a conversation with a brain in a jar without any special apparatus connecting the two is equally ridiculous. The excuse is that it’s ‘telepathy’, but why is he able to communicate with just the one brain when there are many others that are also in the room? What special ability does this brain have over the others and why is Martin the only one that can hear it and no one else?

Having Martin hear Spacek’s voice as her thoughts come into his brain doesn’t make sense either. The definition of telepathy is the  communication of thoughts and ideas other than the known senses, but nothing to do with voices. Thoughts in themselves don’t have a distinct voice connected to them unless the brain is attached to a voice box, which this one isn’t.  It is true that thoughts going on in person’t own head may have that person’s voice, so Martin should actually be hearing his own voice as his brain deciphers the messages being sent to it from the other one much like if he were reading out loud a note that had been written by someone else.

This also marks an odd career choice for Turner who burst onto the scene with her sexy performance in Body Heat . I realize that in her effort to avoid typecasting she wanted to do something that was completely different from her first film, but her character is too campy and one-dimensional and she ends up getting completely upstaged by Martin in every scene they’re in. The role also has a creepy foreshadowing as her character gains a lot of weight much like she has in reality due to her rheumatoid arthritis. In real-life it’s the drugs and chemo that caused the weight gain while here it’s created through make-up and a body suit and intended for comical effect.

There’s also an interesting behind-the-scenes story dealing with a scene involving a 5-year-old girl, played by Mya Stark, who must verbally repeat back to Martin from memory a very complicated set of directions that he had just told her. Since she was too young to read no cue cards were used and director Reiner figured it would take all day to film the scene convinced that many retakes would inevitably be required for her to finally get the lines right, but instead to his shock she repeated the lines back correctly the very first time. Then 30 years later in 2012 Reiner was standing in line at a store when a female business executive approached him and introduced herself. She stated that they had met many years before, but Reiner didn’t recognize her until she told him that she was that little girl now all grown up.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

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