Category Archives: Campy Comedy

Playing for Keeps (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens refurbish rundown hotel.

Danny (Daniel Jordano) has just recently graduated from high school and has big entrepreneurial dreams.  He becomes aware that his family has inherited a place called Hotel Majestic in Bethany, Pennsylvania and decides he wants to turn it into a nightclub for teens, but first he must first pay off the $8,000 due in back taxes. Together with his two friends: Spike (Mathew Penn) and Silk (Leon W. Grant) they devise a way to earn the money by pretending to be Boy Scouts and selling cookies to office workers. When they finally payoff the debt they find an even bigger challenge, which is fixing up the decrepit place while also fighting off a man named Harry Cromwell (Robert Milli) who runs a Chemical Company and wants to turn the hotel property into a waste dump.

This was Harvey Weinstein’s first directorial effort, which he did alongside his brother Bob and released under the then new Miramax studio, which was named after their parents Miriam and Max. This also marks Harvey’s first known case of sexual harassment when he invited an attractive 20-year-old waitress named Tomi-Ann Roberts, who was waiting tables in the town where they were shooting in, up to his hotel room to audition for a role he felt she’d be ‘perfect’ for and when she arrived she found him naked in a tub and requesting that she should disrobe as well to make sure she’d be ‘right for the part’ even though there’s no nudity in the movie.

If Weinstein’s name wasn’t so famous and you didn’t know who the director was you’d be convinced it was done by some talentless hack whose first and last film venture this was. While it does remain at least lively everything else about it is stupid including the corny, cliché-ridden comedy that permeates every scene. I found the three leads, who seem to be cast to meet some sort-of politically correct quota as they’re different races, to be quite bland particularly lead star Jordano who shows no varied emotions or facial expressions other than the same glossy smile all the way through no matter what other emotional situation he may be in.

The townspeople are boring caricatures too with their café jukebox having no other selections of music to play than Kate Smith, and the people behaving like they’d never heard of Billy Idol or Michael Jackson, which is ridiculous as I grew up in a small Midwestern town during the 80’s and our radio stations and juke boxes had a wide selection of the latest hits just like the big city. Having the only other open-minded person in the town being the farmer’s super hot daughter (Mary B. Ward) who magically falls for Danny was just a little too convenient.

The process of renovating the place, which takes up almost the entire runtime, gets so drawn-out that it becomes boring. I also couldn’t believe that all of Danny’s high school friends, which he recruits as ‘stockholders’, would be willing to stick through the arduous challenge of the fixing up the hotel like they do and most would’ve walked away pretty quickly. When they are finally able to complete the project the place gets filled with such tacky 80’s deco art that I found it better looking when it was rundown.

Marisa Tomei, who makes her film debut here, is quite engaging and I enjoyed her better in this role than her more famous Academy Award winning one from My Cousin VinnyI also liked Kim Hauser, who plays Danny’s kid sister, and has an appealing Karen Black-like cross-eyed look. Had these two been made the stars instead of the three transparent guys it would’ve been better.

It seems like, based off of the imdb reviews that I read, that the only reason people like this movie is because of its 80’s cheesiness and if that’s what you’re into you’ll be more than satisfied as this thing sure has a hell of a lot of it. Others though will find it shallow and mindless.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Directors: Bob and Harvey Weinstein

Studio: Miramax

Available: DVD

Drive-In (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mayhem at the movies.

It’s just another evening at the drive-in movies in a small Texas town except this time there’s more action in the theater than in the movie being shown. As the people watch the latest action flick known as ‘Disaster ’76’ on the big-screen there’s all sorts of commotion going on around them. Gifford (Trey Wilson) and Will (Gordon Hurst) are two bumbling amateur crooks who plan on robbing the concession stand during the show. Glowie (Lisa Lemole) is the fed-up girlfriend of Enoch (Billy Milliken), who leads the local teen gang, and who desires a more clean-cut guy like Orville (Glenn Morshower), but Enoch and his obedient thugs try to prevent this potential union from happening. There’s also the paranoid African American Dr. Demars  (Bill McGhee) who frets about having to live in the middle of ‘Klan Country’, but still manages to take his wife (Gloria Shaw) to the show, but also ends up in the process having several inadvertent encounters with the volatile Enoch.

Rod Amateau’s name may not be as well known as other notoriously bad filmmaker’s like Ed Wood Jr. or Tommy Wiseau who helmed the infamously awful The Room, but he probably should be. Not only did Amateau create ‘My Mother the Car’, but he also did ‘Supertrain’, which are considered two of the worst TV-shows ever produced. He also wrote and directed The Garbage Pail Kids, which usually lands high on everyone’s terrible movie list. However, his directorial effort here isn’t bad and for awhile even engaging. My favorite part is a scene done inside a roller skating rink where we see real teenagers, that are age appropriate and with varying body-types, behaving very much like small town teens of that era would. It’s like a taking a time machine back to the simpler times and seeing how things really were, but without the pretension.

The performances are if anything quite lively including Morshower, best known as Aaron Pierce from the series ’24’, in his film debut and sporting a full, bushy head of red hair. It’s also great seeing Lisa Lemole in a prominent role as she later left acting in 1985 when she married Mehmet Oz better known as Dr. Oz. This also marks the acting debut of Trey Wilson, who went on to play many colorful supporting characters before having his career cut short by an unexpected death at the young age of only 40. Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who’s more famous for playing Engelbert in The Bad News Bears, is amusing too as Morshower’s younger brother.

Unfortunately despite a promising start the film ultimately flounders especially during the second act as too much cartoonish silliness gets in the way of any subtle realism. At the end the cars of the customers slowly file out of the drive-in like what had occurred was no big deal and the viewer is left feeling the same way. The stakes needed to be higher and the event needed more of a long-lasting consequence. A funny idea would’ve had the mayhem cause actual destruction to the drive-in while the disaster flick played perhaps even having it burn down to a cinder. Since the theater in real-life got demolished just a few years after this was shot it might’ve been possible and thus allowed the film to leave more of lasting visual impression than it does.

The Drive-in theater in Terrell, Texas as it looked in 1975 when the film was shot.

The same location as it looks now.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Amateau

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Sony Choice Collection)

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Super hero drops-out.

Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) successfully fights off the Nazis during WWII and becomes a hero to millions, but then by the 1950’s, during the McCarthy era, he is smeared as being a ‘communist’, due to wearing a red cape.  The congressional investigators also accuse him of flying in airspace without a proper license and wearing underwear in public. All of this causes him to drop-out of the superhero business by moving to Australia and turning into a homeless alcoholic. Then his old rival, Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) steals a secret weapon called the hypnoray, which puts the whole world at risk. This causes the authorities to plead to Captain Invincible to return and help them stop the madman, but through the years his skills have diminished and he’s not sure he can get back into form to battle crime like he once did.

At the outset this is an inspired concoction made long before the super-hero satire was ever in vogue and there are a few funny bits here and there, but the whole thing gets too bizarre for its own good. The viewer becomes inundated with so much wacky imagery and goofy characters that instead of laughing you’re left scratching your head wondering what’s it all about.

The biggest mistake was adding in musical numbers, which turns the thing into an ill-advised version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The original script was not intended to be a musical, but director Philippe Mora had always dreamed of doing one, so he requested that the songs be added in. The first time this occurs it’s kind of fun particularly the line dance done by the well-dressed advisors to the President, which all helps to add to the irreverence, but then continuing to add in more songs bogs everything down  and makes the already sluggish pace even worse. Arkin and co-star Kate Fitzpatrick do not have good singing voices, so hearing them belt-out a half-hearted tune hurts the ears and with no interesting dance numbers to come along with it, these moments become boring visually as well.

Even though the story involves an aging superhero I still felt Arkin was too old for the part and would’ve liked somebody who could have offered more energy. Typical Arkin is great with offbeat material such as this, but everything is so over-the-top that he gets lost in the access and ultimately becomes just a prop. Christopher Lee suffers the same fate although some fans love his rendition of ‘Name Your Poison’ which he sings to Arkin as he tries to entice him to take an alcoholic drink from his personally made wet bar.

The film offers no special effects which becomes most apparent during the segment where Captain Invincible supposedly upends a speeding car, but the camera cuts away, so we never see him do the actual act, and just hits home how cheap the whole production really is. If you’re going to make fun of the Superhero genre you have to at least show some respect for it, which this thing never does. Instead of going off on wild tangents there should’ve been a big showdown between Invincible and Midnight, but it peters out in this area by being too busy trying to be weird when it should’ve worked harder to get a more coherent and interesting story.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philippe Mora

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: DVD

Speed Zone (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Another cross-country race.

A collage of wacky characters convene to a countryside inn, which will be the starting point of another illegal cross-country race known as the Cannonball Run that will have people driving their cars from Washington D.C. to Santa Monica, California in record time with the winner receiving $1 million. Many attempts have been made in the past to stop it, but to no avail. However, this time Police Chief Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle) makes a commitment to stymie the race any way he can, but as usual the participants are able to complete it without much hassle.

This is the fifth attempt at making a movie dealing with the real-life race called Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash that would start on the east coast in either New York or Connecticut and finish at the  Portofino Inn in Redondo, California. The race was run 5 times during the 70’s with the last one occurring on April 1, 1979. 4 other movies had already been made on this same subject and include: The Gumball RallyCannonball!, The Cannonball Runand Cannonball Run IIWhile those films featured some exciting stunt work the comedy elements and characters were usually quite lame and cartoonish and the box office receipts, particularly for Cannonball Run II, had slowed completely after an initially good first weekend making it seem that producers would realize that this theme had run its course, but Hollywood being Hollywood stubbornly decided to resurrect the idea and even offering Burt Reynolds a big sum of money to reprise his role, but he refused.

Initially I thought this one might be a bit of an improvement as it starts out right away with a Lamborghini, driven by John Schneider, being chased down the highway by a bunch of cops, which if you’re going to do a movie like this is the way it should be done. Keep the emphasis on the action and car stunts while minimizes the comedy and dialogue. Unfortunately this unravels pretty quickly by first having the Lamborghini skip across a lake, which was proven on the Myth Busters TV-show not to be possible, and then deviates to the cartoonish characters standing around interacting with one another, which is not funny and not what people who came to watch a car race movie want to see.

Outside of Jamie Farr, who reprises his role as an Arab sheik, but is fortunately only seen at the beginning, the rest of the cast is made up of new faces not seen in any of the previous ones, but having a new set of people playing the same campy roles doesn’t help. Boyle gets listed as having a lead role, but his character really doesn’t do much and is so ineffective at impending the race you wonder why they even bothered to write-him into the script. Tim Matheson too plays a character that isn’t funny and I can only imagine that he took the part, much like the Smothers Brothers who also appear here, simply for the money, but certainly this cannot be anything they’d want to highlight on their resumes.

I did like John Candy who unlike the rest actually seems more like a real person and not just a buffoonish nut. Unfortunately he gets paired with Donna Dixon as his driving partner who speaks in an affected Brooklyn accent, which I found quite annoying. They should’ve had his SCTV-alum partner Eugene Levy ride with him as the constant bickering the two shared along with their contrasting personalities would’ve been amusing.  Alyssa Milano has a good bit as a student driver being instructed to pass all cars that are foreign made. I really liked Brooke Shields appearance too where she plays herself working as a flight attendant so she doesn’t have to settle for ‘bit parts in movies’. In fact her part is so funny it’s the only reason I’m giving this otherwise stupid dreck 2-points.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 21, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jim Drake

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Elephant in a truck.

Truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) becomes enticed by an offer brought to him by Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams) to haul some secret cargo from Florida to Dallas for $200,000, which later gets upped to $400,000. Cledus readily accepts, but finds that Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is in no shape to make the run as he is holed-up in a seedy hotel and drunk over his break-up to Carrie (Sally Field). Cledus solves this issue by getting the two back together and then getting Bandit back in shape. Yet when they finally get to where the cargo is stored they realize it’s an elephant that is pregnant and transporting her to another state becomes a logistical nightmare especially with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) on their tail the whole way.

To some degree I’ll give this film credit because unlike most other sequels it doesn’t try to replicate the formula of the first. There’s definite attempts to instill different ideas into the plot that were not in the first one, which is commendable as so many other sequels come-off like just a vapid redo of what we’ve already seen. Unfortunately it goes too far with it becoming too campy and surreal for its own good.

Hauling the elephant in a truck through 4-states is particularly problematic as no mention is made about what the animal will eat on the way there. This is a big creature that will most assuredly need a lot of food and yet it’s never brought up nor anything shown about getting the elephant water while it’s stuck in the hot truck for many hours, or the massive mess it would most likely make inside the truck when it has to poop and pee.

Reynolds is the best thing about it as he keeps each scene he’s in engaging in an almost effortless way. The opening bit of him drunk in a hotel is quite amusing as is his confrontation with an unappreciative fan that comes about later on at a gas station.

Field’s presence though isn’t as interesting and she has stated in a 2016 interview that she considers this to be the worst movie that she’s ever done. I don’t mind having a sensible character present during all the absurdity, but why would she want to marry Junior (Mike Henry) the son of Sheriff Justice. It’s one thing to be slightly dim-witted, but Junior is so clueless it’s like he should be institutionalized, so why would this otherwise sensible woman want to get into a relationship with him especially if it meant dealing with a cantankerous father-in-law? It’s stupid logic like this that really kills the enjoyment of the movie quickly.

Gleason is certainly good for some laughs especially his running commentary about everything that he comes into contact with. That fact that he constantly has a cigarette in his hand even while driving I found funny too, but having a Sheriff chase around the Bandit far outside his jurisdiction gets a bit ridiculous. The scriptwriters should’ve had him become a part of the highway patrol if he was going to do that, but they don’t. His car wrecks become too cartoonish as well. Where is he finding all of these brand new police cars to drive in while the other ones get completed totaled including having one submerged with water when it falls into a river?

The film’s biggest transgression though it that there isn’t enough car chases, which is the sole reason audiences came to see this movie. There is one at the very end, but it’s done in an enclosed area and features hundreds of police cars playing a game of chicken with hundreds of trucks, which is too over-the-top and silly. The only other car chase occurs in the middle part and features Sheriff Justice chasing Bandit underneath a an old roller coaster, which by using footage of the destruction of the Greyhound Coaster being torn down in Atlanta, Georgia, they inadvertently destroy.

There’s a plethora of famous faces showing up in bit parts including Terry Bradshaw with a full head of hair, the stuttering Mel Tillis, and country music legend Brenda Lee. You can even spot Chuck Yeager the man who broke the sound barrier who is seen at a party, but with no speaking lines. However, non of these cameos are interesting or make watching this film worth it.  Even the blooper reel that gets shown over the closing credits, which became a staple of Hal Needham movies, is flat and dull.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

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

Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Must arrive on time.

Bert (George Kennedy) is an unscrupulous, conniving owner of a football team who’s having an affair with the beautiful Maggie (Barbara Eden) whom he promises to marry once the father (Parley Baer) of his wife Estelle (Bridget Hanley) dies. He’s hoping to get a large chunk of the will, but finds that it comes with one big stipulation: he must restore the historic locomotive, the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and take it from New York City to Chattanooga, Tennessee within 24-hours and make sure that it arrives precisely on-schedule and if not he’ll lose out on a million dollars.

Producer George Edwards inadvertently struck gold in 1977 when he produced a film based on a hit song, Harper Valley PTA, that did marginally well, so he decided to try his luck with another one, but this time the attempt is an embarrassing failure. Part of the reason is that at least with the Tom T. Hall ditty it had a plot already in the lyrics, but this one doesn’t and the lame scenario that gets written around it is both threadbare and corny.

While Kennedy manages to be amusing he’s also unlikable and the viewer has no interest in seeing him achieve the challenge. For the story to have been more effective the character should not have already been rich, but instead poor and needing the money to help his family survive, which would’ve built more of an emotional interest at seeing him succeed.  Kennedy should’ve also driven the train himself, which would’ve created more comic scenarios instead of just seeing him basically sit back in the diner car doing nothing but nervously glance at his watch while others do the actual work.

Eden is a bore and speaks with in an annoying accent that makes her seem like a floozy from the streets. Bridget Hanley overdoes it with her caricatures of nouveau riche wife that is irritatingly cliched although it’s interesting to note that she did costar with Eden 17 years earlier in a season two episode of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ titled: ‘My Master, the Swinging Bachelor’.  Jineane Ford, a former Miss USA winner who spent 16 years as a news reporter for KPNX-TV in Phoenix, gets exploited by being forced to play a stutterer, which the filmmakers apparently thought should be a source of amusement, but it isn’t and shouldn’t have been implemented.

Watching Parley Baer’s dead body entombed inside a large box car, which then gets lowered into a giant grave is the film’s one and only original moment. Some may also find Tony Azito as a double-jointed waiter whose never dropped a drink amusing too, but everything else falls flat. More focus needed to be spent on the train scenario, like having it run into a storm, which could’ve threatened its arrival time, or dealing with mechanical problems, instead of dwelling in silly juvenile escapades that are both unfunny and pointless even for mindless escapism.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bruce Bilson

Studio: April Fools Productions

Available: VHS

Heartbeeps (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robots fall in love.

Val (Andy Kaufman) and Aqua (Bernadette Peters) are two robots who meet one day at the factory while awaiting repairs. They quickly fall in love and decide to escape out into the wilderness while bringing alone Phil a small robot who does not speak as well as Catskill (voice of Jack Carter) a robot made to resemble a cigar smoking vaudeville-type stand-up comedian. However, two employees from the factory, Max (Kenneth McMillan) and Charlie (Randy Quaid) go on a pursuit to retrieve them. There’s also the malfunctioning law enforcement robot known as Crimebuster who also chases after the robots and will stop at nothing to bring them back.

This is a highly unusual film in that it uses robots as its main characters and has their point-of-view the whole way through. Other films have had robots of course, but they are put in supporting roles to the humans.  Here director Allan Arkush was determined to keep it authentic to the ‘robot experience’, by implementing a computer-type logic to everything that goes on, which creates  some surreal moments, but ultimately falls flat.

To be a successful film you still need to have characters that the viewer finds relatable and the robots are too, pardon the pun, mechanical. They never say anything that is interesting or funny and while they at times have an endearing child-like quality they do not create any emotional bond with the audience.

There still needed to be a human as the centerpiece, maybe someone the robots met during their escape, who takes them in and helps them in their quest to hide from those that are after them while also having the robots in some way help their new human friend in whatever personal challenges or battles they were going through.  They are a couple of times that the robots do come into contact with people with one occurring when they crash a party at a swanky hilltop resort with Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov playing two of the partiers, but the guests at the party are broadly played caricatures and the scene itself too brief. They also later meet-up with a couple, played by Melanie Mayron and Christopher Guest, who run a junkyard, but this occurs too late in the movie and should’ve been introduced earlier.

While the wilderness setting is scenic it fails to add much in the way of either excitement or comedy. Having the two escape into a big city would’ve been more compelling. The crimebuster robot that chases after them is too goofy and offers no tension or intrigue. Sometimes even in a comedy it’s good to have a little bit of that, or at least a bad guy that is competent enough to make the viewer wonder, if even for a second, whether our heroes are going to safely outsmart him or not, which doesn’t occur here.

It would’ve been nice too had there actually been some genuine laughs. The only attempts at humor are when Catskill cracks one of his long line of incredibly dumb jokes, which are intended to be lame, but having a few that were actually clever, would’ve helped. Even the talented Kaufman flounders as he uses the same accent of his famous foreign man character that he did during his stand-up routines as well as in the TV-show ‘Taxi’ ultimately making it seem like Latka in a robot disguise.

The make-up effects by Stan Winston are impressive especially the opening credit sequence at the beginning where the camera focuses onto the robots’ various parts close-up. Winston used a gelatin substance that gave off a authentic looking metallic appearance versus how it had always been done before where it had been painted on. However, two holes where created around the robots eyes, which gives it a mask-like appearance and ultimately ruins the attempt although it gets kudos for at least making a strong effort. I also liked the  clicking sound effect every time one of the robots blinked their eyes, which resembled the noise of a camera taking a picture. but it’s not consistent as it’s heard during the first half, but not during the second part.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 18 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: Universal

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

Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog becomes a star.

Estie Del Ruth (Madeline Kahn) is a struggling actress still waiting for her big break. While roaming the streets she comes upon a homeless dog (Augustus Von Schumacher) and befriends it. Grayson (Bruce Dern) is a hapless tour guide driving a bus filled with tourists past the homes of the famous Hollywood stars. He’d rather be directing movies and has some great ideas, but is constantly getting turned down. Then one day famous studio mogul J.J. Fromberg (Art Carney) witnesses the dog saving Estie from a lecherous producer (Aldo Ray) and is so impressed that he wants to cast the dog in its own movie. Grayson, seeing this as his chance to finally break into the movie business, pretends to be the dog’s owner and therefore allowed to be in charge of directing the dog’s film, but the dog will only take orders from from Estie forcing him to allow her to tag along, but only if he helps her get a movie contract.

The story was originally titled ‘A Bark was Born’ and written by Cy Howard in 1971 and was an account of the famous 1920’s real-life dog star known as Rin Tin Tin. He commissioned Arnold Schulman to write the script for him. Schulman, who was coming off a good run of films as screenwriter including penning the scripts for Goodbye Columbus and Funny Lady decided to add some satirical elements to the story before finally handing it off to studio head David Picker to produce. However, the owners of Rin Tin Tin sued Picker for producing a film about their dog without authorization causing Picker to remove the fictional elements from the script and turning it into a all-out farcical parody of old-time Hollywood instead.

The film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t give the viewer a feeling that they’re being transported to a different era as the 1920’s are played-up as being too cartonish and silly to be believable. The characters are caricatures that have no emotional connection to the audience, so watching their ascent into Hollywood success is neither interesting nor compelling. The humor relies too much on throwaway bits that have no connection to the main plot and mostly fall flat while moments that do have comic potential, like the dog only taking orders from Kahn, do not get played-up enough.

Kahn is a poor choice for the lead and single-handily bogs the production down, which wasn’t too great to begin with. She is perfect as a supporting actress playing over-the-top, eccentric characters, but as a normal person trying to elicit sympathy she does poorly. Lily Tomlin was the original choice for the part, but she wanted the script rewritten in order for it to have a more serious edge, which wouldn’t have been a bad idea,  but director Michael Winner wanted to keep the thing silly and lightweight and didn’t agree.

Dern, who expressed in an interview decades later, that doing this film was his one true career regret, is actually quite good and its fun seeing him play in a more lighthearted role versus the darker ones that have made up so much of his onscreen presence. However, by the second half he pretty much gets written-out, which was a shame. Ron Leibman, as the cross-dressing silent film star Rudy Montague, has a few interesting moments, but he plays the part in too much of an intense manner making him seem more creepy than funny.

Art Carney is not funny at all as the big-time studio head and the part would’ve been better served had it been played by Phil Silvers, who gets stuck in a much smaller role that does not take advantage of his comic talents. The rest of the cast is made-up of walk-on bits by famous stars of the past. Most these cameos are not amusing or interesting making their presence much like the movie itself quite pointless.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount Pictures

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

!Three Amigos! (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Western stars travel south.

El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) and his gang terrorize a small village in 1916 Mexico by demanding that its residents pay him ‘protection money’ or risk getting pillaged. Carmen (Patrice Martinez), who is the daughter of one of the village elders, tries to come up with a plan to stop them and finds her solution after watching a silent film featuring The Three Amigos (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short) who  fight evil doers and injustice. Thinking they are real heroes she sends them a telegram inviting them to her town to fight El Guapo. The Amigos, who have just gotten fired, think it’s an invitation to do a show and in desperate need of money travel across the border unaware of the dangers that await.

While the concept is ripe for great comic potential the script almost immediately starts showing its cracks. Now, I was not around in 1916, but it seems to me that people would’ve still been sophisticated enough to know the difference between movie acting and the real thing and the fact that Carmen, who is well over 18, doesn’t makes her seem a bit too naive. The three amigos aren’t much better as they fail to know the meaning of such words as infamous, tequila, or even veranda. Comedies based on misunderstandings can be highly enjoyable, but it still depends on the characters being reasonably intelligent to make it work and the group here are just too dumb to be believed making the whole scenario weak and watered down from the get-go.

What’s even more aggravating is that the film cheats on its own rules. Steve Martin scolds the bandits for using real bullets, as at that point he was still under the impression that they were fellow actors, but then the amigos’ guns end up having real bullets too even though if they were really just actors they should’ve been stage props with blanks. They turn out to be great shots too, able to shoot the bad guys even from long distance making them seem like actual gunfighters and not actors at all. There’s also a scene where Martin gets shot in the arm and while this might not be fatal it could still cause severe pain and infection, but there’s no scene showing it getting removed and bandaged up and  he continues to move it like it wasn’t even injured.

While it was interesting seeing Chase getting laughs for being a doofus as opposed to his snarky quips I still felt the three characters were too transparent. Not only is there very little contrast between their personalities, but there personal lives are never shown. These were supposedly big stars who should’ve had a big fan base, agents, friends, or wives/girlfriends, so the idea that they had ‘nothing to go back to’ and thus decided to remain in Mexico didn’t really make sense. Even with the argument that they had recently gotten fired from their jobs they should’ve had enough fame and connections in L.A. to find other gigs without immediately being so hard-up.

There’s a scene too where the three are shown sleeping together in a small bed, which seemed to intimate that they were gay. This never gets confirmed, but the film might’ve been more interesting had they been.

The moment where the three sing ‘My Little Buttercup’ inside a rough Mexican bar filled with bandits is the high point, but everything else is downhill. Instead for forcing these dimwitted actors to face the harsh realities of true western life outside of their Hollywood safe place it deviates into ill-advised surreal fantasy that contradicts the whole premise. The worst moment is when they sing a song in front of an incredibly fake looking sunset backdrop that features talking animals, which is so stupid that it destroys everything else that comes either before or after it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Landis

Studio: Orion Pictures

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