Category Archives: Comedy

Nickelodeon (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making a silent movie.

The year is 1913 and Leo Harrigan (Ryan O’Neal) is tired of being a lawyer and representing sleazy clients, so by chance he gets a job writing scripts for silent movie mogul H.H. Cobb (Brian Keith). Later on he’s sent to California to direct his first silent film, but he has no experience doing that and finds that he has a rough relationship with the film’s leading man Buck Greenway (Burt Reynolds).

When this film first came out Columbia Pictures was convinced that they had a big hit on their hands and to celebrate they allowed everyone attending the L.A. premiere to pay only 5 cents to get in, in order to correspond to the price of admission during the silent film era. Yet many of those who attended were not satisfied with the movie causing critic David Sheehan to claim “it wasn’t worth paying a nickel to see.”

It’s hard to know who to blame as both sides have differing accounts for what went wrong. David Begelman, the then head of Columbia Pictures, loved the script, which was written by W.D. Richter and had by all accounts a good dramatic edge to it, but when they gave it to Peter Bogdanovich to read he described it as a ‘piece of garbage’. Yet they decided to hire Bogdanovich to direct it anyways by promising him he could change the script any way he wanted as Begelman considered Bogdanovich to be a ‘cinematic genius’ and that ‘everything he touched turned to gold’. Bogdanovich on the other hand stated that he liked the script as it was, but was pressured by the studio to add in farcical elements as they were hoping to recreate the magic of his earlier film What’s Up Doc?.

In either case the attempted comedy doesn’t work and the gags, which come at a rapid-fire pace, ultimately become more mind numbing than anything. The only funny bit is the extended fistfight between O’Neal and Reynolds while everything else sinks into mundane silliness. Supposedly some of the story is based on the real-life remembrances  of film veterans Raoul Walsh and Allan Dwan, but with so much misguided zaniness thrown in it’s hard to know what if anything to take seriously.

The story desperately needed more of a focus. Having it about a small cast and crew trying to make their first silent film and the many challenges that it would entail could’ve been both amusing and revealing, but the story jumps ahead too much. We see the characters in one setting at one moment and then on a whim the film fast forwards to them in some completely different setting a year or more later, which never allows the viewer to connect emotionally with the people or what they’re going through.

O’ Neal is good playing a befuddled sort who simply reacts to the goofiness around him while Reynolds is excellent as the rough and tough good ole boy and their budding love/hate friendship should’ve been the film’s main focus. Supermodel Jane Hitchcock, in her one and only feature film appearance, is easy on the eyes, but her part was originally intended for Cybill Shepherd, who would’ve given the role more edge.

The cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs is pristine as is the period detail, but the story takes on too much especially the second hour, which just goes from one tangent to another.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Great Outdoors (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends ruin their vacation.

Chet (John Candy) decides to take his wife (Stephanie Faracy) and two kids (Chris Young, Ian Michael Giatti) on a well deserved family outing up to a lake resort town in Wisconsin. Unfortunately their fun excursion  gets crashed by their obnoxious friend Roman (Dan Aykroyd) and his wife Kate (Annette Bening) who along with their two creepy twin daughters (Hilary Gordon, Rebecca Gordon) proceed to turn the pleasant vacation into a nightmare.

Calling this John Hughes script paper thin is an understatement and it reminded me of an interview I once read where Hughes bragged that he could write his screenplays in a matter of only a day or two although with this one I’m surprised it took even that long. Not only is the premise devoid of any original ideas, but it seemed more like material for the Griswold family and I was confused why it wasn’t just made as part of the Vacation series although I preferred Candy over Chevy Chase as he’s much more likable without the sneering sarcasm, and his presence here helps make it at least modestly enjoyable.

The comedy also avoids becoming too farcical or lewd, which was nice, and manages to keep things semi-believable to what might occur to a regular family in the woods including my favorite part where the two men try to kill a bat that has gotten into the cabin. The setting, which was filmed on-location in Lake Bass, California is scenic and the woodsy cabin, built specifically for the film on a studio backlot, is impressive because you would never know the difference.

However, the animosity between the two characters, which is supposedly the heart of the humor, is not played-up enough or as half as much as I was expecting. In many ways it seemed almost like it was Candy who was more the obnoxious one particularly when he tells a scary story that gets everyone upset. The scene where he puts a candy bar on the hood of his car to attract a bear makes him look really stupid, and something that should’ve been done instead by the supposedly dopey second-banana character like Aykroyd.

The kids, especially the twin girls who seemed spookier than the twins in The Shining, are annoying and I thought it was weird that they are played-off as creepy for the majority of the film only to then near the end have the viewer expected to suddenly start caring for them when they get trapped in a cave.  As for the two boys they’re dull and transparent and the scenes dealing with the romance that the oldest one has with one of the teen waitresses (Lucy Deakins) are extremely formulaic and unnecessary and almost like it were put in simply to pad the runtime.

The running gag dealing with the talking raccoons is childish and the one dealing with a man (Britt Leach) constantly getting struck by lightning is completely ridiculous.  The story is nothing more than a procession of gags that lacks momentum or pace. The laughs are sporadic and subside after the 45-minute mark making the final half a chore to sit through and that includes the climactic bear attack, which is forced and over-the-top.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Released: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Deutch

Studio: Universal 

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

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Orphaned kids strike gold.

Russell (Bill Bixby) is a slick gambler living in the old West who finds that he has unwittingly become the guardian to three orphaned children ( Clay O’Brien, Brad Savage, Stacy Manning). Initially he tries to pawn them off on other people, but eventually he takes a liking to them when he realizes that they’ve inherited a mine that has gold in it, which soon makes everyone else in town want to adopt them.

This Disney film, which was based on the 1971 Jack Bickham novel of the same name, fares better than most of their other films and in fact became its biggest money maker from the 70’s. It helps that the main character of Russell isn’t as squeaky clean as the typical Disney leading man as it’s strongly implied that he cheats at the poker games that he wins and the fact that he gradually softens towards the kids through time creates a nice character arch. Susan Clark, who’s the love interest, is good here too as she plays against type for a Disney leading lady by being more tom boyish and masculine despite the fact that apparently behind-the-scenes she was scared to death of horses and every scene that required her to ride one had her instead on a mechanical one although you could never tell.

The typical Disney comical trappings are given a unique spin here too, which also helps. Instead of having another boring barroom brawl, which is so common in many western comedies, we are treated to a funny lovers spat between Clark and Bixby inside the bar where props get thrown around between the two while everyone else sits frozen and unsure of what to do. There’s no cartoonish car chase at the end either, but instead a genuinely hair-raising battle between Bixby and Slim Pickens, who plays one of the bad guys, down the white rapids of a river. The shooting was also done on-location at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, which improves the setting from the usual studio back lot.

Even the kids are tolerable without having their cuteness or innocence get overdone even though the running joke dealing with the young girl constantly having to go pee isn’t as funny as it seems when you think about it and most likely in reality would’ve been a warning sign of a very serious medical condition instead. Also, the scene showing the kids getting trapped in the mine after an earthquake should’ve also shown how they were able to get out instead of simply cutting to the next scene with them back in town of it without any explanation as to how they got there.

The real stars of the film though are Don Knotts and Tim Conway as the comically bumbling would-be crooks. This marked the first of five film appearances that the two did together and in many ways this is probably their best effort. I always liked seeing them together because it was a rare chance for Knotts to play the smarter of the two instead of always being the dope himself although some may find Conway’s extreme ineptness more annoying than funny. In either event they help enliven the proceedings and became the stars of the sequel The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, which will be reviewed next week.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Day for Night (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Movie within a movie.

Director Ferrand (Francois Truffaut) is trying desperately to complete his latest film project, but faces many challenges in the process. His young star (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is threatening to drop-out due to his recent break-up with his girlfriend, so his co-star Julie (Jacqueline Bisset) decides to sleep with him out of pity and in an effort to get the film completed, but in the process gets in trouble with her husband. Ferrand also faces issues with his other leading lady Severine (Valentina Cortese) who is an alcoholic  and with the sudden death of his male lead Alexander (Jean-Pierre Aumont).

What was once an innovative idea now seems rather antiquated. No where is this more apparent then in the scene where Severine constantly forgets her lines and opens up the wrong door during each take. At one point this might’ve seemed funny as behind-the-scenes bloopers really didn’t come into vogue until Hal Needham started showing them during the mid-70’s in the closing credits of his films. However, actor screw-ups are now no longer fresh and instead seem almost sad and pathetic especially here where you begin to wonder if the woman is suffering from severe psychological disorder. I was also surprised that the rest of the crew and director put up with it as most Hollywood productions would have the actress quickly fired and replaced.

Truffaut may be a great director, but his onscreen presence isn’t much and he hardly ever seems to be directing anything anyways, but more overwhelmed by the people and problems that surround him almost like he really isn’t in control. Perhaps this was the point, but a stronger actor with a more definitive personality would’ve hit the idea home better. I was also confused why he constantly wore an earplug that seemed to be connected to what looked like a transistor radio in his shirt pocket. Initially I thought it was to help relay messages/signals to his co-director/cinematographer or vice-versa, but then he is shown wearing it even when he was not on the set making it seem like it might be a hearing aid, but in either case it never gets properly explained, but should’ve.

Bisst is beautiful and I’ll give Truffaut credit as he certainly knows how to capture her exquisite blue eyes better than any other director.   Hearing her speak fluid French is at first surreal, but then kind of fun and watching her climb a tall ladder without hesitation in order to get onto a elevated set was impressive too as I’m not sure I would’ve been quite so brave.

The behind-the-scene romantic/sexual scenarios that occur between the cast members are quite funny, but I wished they had jumped into them sooner as I found them to be more interesting than the filmmaking stuff, which to me didn’t come off as all that revealing or insightful. I also felt the antics got resolved too quickly and easily. Again I presume this was the humorous intent by showing how no matter what the problem or issue somehow, someway they find a way to get the film completed, but the story would’ve been more captivating had these side-dramas been more played-out. It’s still an entertaining watch, but a reboot with the setting in a Hollywood production should be in order as I suspect some of the on-set politics there would be handled much differently.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 24, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

“Crocodile” Dundee II (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Now that’s a knife.

Mick (Paul Hogan) and Sue (Linda Kozlowski) having been living together in her New York apartment for a year since their last adventures from the first film. Sue’s ex-husband Bob (Dennis Boutsikaris) is working for drug enforcement in South America. He witnesses and photographs the murder of a rival drug cartel leader at the hands of Luis Rico (Hechter Ubarry) and his men. Once Bob realizes that he’s been spotted he runs for cover to his hotel, but the men chase after him and kill him, but not before he sends the film negatives of the killing to Sue. The drug gang then kidnaps Sue in order to get their hands on the negative and it’s up to Mick to find a way to free her while also single-handedly fighting off the gang.

This sequel manages to avoid the missteps of so many others by wisely not trying to replay what we saw in the first installment, but instead taking it into a new direction and therefore allowing the theme and characters to progress. To some degree the plot does come off like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ and the villains are also incredibly dull and generic. Do we really need bad guy Luis explaining to Sue why he got into the drug dealing business, because of the ‘money’ and ‘power’, as if there would be any other reason?

Having her ex-husband, someone who was never seen at all in the first film, act as a catalyst is problematic too. It seems like one’s ex-spouse; especially someone he hasn’t spoken to in years would be the last person to send crucial photographs to. He works for the DEA, so why not send it to them?

However, even with these issues I still kind of liked seeing Mick forced into action. The first film consisted mainly of him bragging about his exploits, but here we get to see first-hand some of his actual survival skills. It also puts to test his easygoing personality and we see if he can remain amazingly low-key and likable in situations that most other people couldn’t.

Unfortunately unlike in the first flick the comedy does not come from Hogan’s character, but instead from others around him that witness his exploits. Outside of an amusing segment that comes early on in the film where Mick tries to talk a man out of jumping off a ledge his character is portrayed in a darker more intense way although not enough to erase his ever going charm.

Kozlowski, who ended up marrying Hogan in real-life 2 years after this film was released, is stuck in a thankless supporting role where she doesn’t have much to do. The film poster portrays the idea that the two fight the bad guys side-by-side, but in reality Hogan does most of it while Linda simply tags along and observes. The real scene stealer is John Meillon whose last theatrical film this was. He was in the first one, but his presence there didn’t amount to much, but here his character, working in tandem with Mick, is an integral part of sending the drug gang on a wild goose chase.

The scenes shot in Australia are gorgeous and in fact the spot where the drug gang campout is the same place where Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed. Charles S. Dutton who plays a man by name of Leroy Brown and pretends to be a drug dealer even though he really isn’t is quite amusing too and overall the film is a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.

Spoiler Alert!

My only problem is in regards to Leonard Maltin’s review of it where he states that he felt the film was too leisurely paced and wished they’d “get on with it especially when all suspense about the outcome is eliminated”, but after watching it this makes no sense. The bad guys are not fully defeated until the very, very end in fact it quickly cuts to the credits once they are. There’s even some concern that Mick may have accidently been killed, which also occurs at the very end, so it seems that Maltin, who I generally like as a critic, either didn’t really watch the movie, or the whole thing, and therefore has no idea what he’s actually talking about.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Cornell

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

“Crocodile” Dundee (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: That’s not a knife.

Sue (Linda Kozlowski) is a newspaper reporter who gets permission to cover a story about an Australian bushman named Mick better known by his nickname Crocodile Dundee (Paul Hogan) who was able to fight off a croc attack before successfully crawling to safety. To do this she travels to the outback, so she can learn about his way of life firsthand. After spending six weeks interviewing him she then invites him back to New York with her. Once there Mick finds the city life and the people in it quite confusing. He also takes an almost immediate disliking to Richard (Mark Blum) Sue’s fiancée.

Loosely based on actual events the laid back story goes down easy and is full of charm, but its basic premise is a bit hard-to-swallow. I thought the idea of having a reporter go clear across the globe to interview some no-name bushman over an obscure and completely unsubstantiated crocodile attack claim just wasn’t realistically worth the time or money. Crocodile/alligator attacks occur yearly all over. Why not save the money by sending the reporter to Florida instead where you could probably just as easily find and interview someone who survived a similar incident?

Most of the time a journalist will be accompanied by a photographer, but here she takes the pictures as well as doing interviews even though with most big time newspapers and many times even the small ones that is never the case. This also brings up the issue of her traveling for weeks all alone in the middle-of-nowhere and even sleeping under the stars with a man she essentially knows little about. What’s to say he wouldn’t attack her at some point and if so who would she call? I believe most women wouldn’t be comfortable in that scenario and thus having a third party present such as a photographer or other chaperone would’ve made far more sense.

The money issue, or the fact that the newspaper apparently pays him to come back to the states with Sue, seemed illogical and wasteful. Why is a newspaper spending money to bring a bushman into a foreign land? If it is to see how he adjusts to it that’s one thing, but the majority of the time Mick spends in New York he is by himself with Sue nowhere near him covering his reactions, so then what’s the point? Later Mick decides to stay in the Big Apple for a longer period, but where does he get the extra money to do that?

The scene where Mick puts a water buffalo into a trance-like sleep is baffling too. Supposedly he does this because they are driving along in a jeep and the buffalo won’t get out of the road and let them pass, but how is putting the animal to sleep where he then plops his big body onto the road going to help? The film then conveniently cuts without any explanation of how there were ultimately able to get around him.

The second act where Mick comes to New York is the funniest, but even here it doesn’t get played-up to its full potential. The amusing scene where Mick meets some prostitutes, but is unaware of what they do is hard to believe. Even a country boy should’ve been aware of the world’s oldest profession especially when he is over 40 and his naivety in that situation just doesn’t completely work. The film’s most famous scene where Mick scares off some muggers by showing them his large hunting knife also proves problematic when you realize that it is unlikely he would’ve ever been able to get that thing past customs.

Hogan’s appealing performance makes it work. However, it would’ve been better had the guy been younger like in his early 20’s instead of well over 40, which would’ve made some of his awe and wonderment seem a bit more genuine and believable.

For year’s Hogan, who also co-wrote the script, insisted that the Dundee character was of his own creation, but then later it was found that it was really based on the life of Rod Ansell who in 1977 at the age of 23 got stranded in the wilderness of Australia’s Northern Territory for 7 weeks when the dinghy he was riding in capsized and in the process he fought off a crocodile whose head he kept as a souvenir. His adventures were documented in the film To Fight the Wild, as well as published in a book. He did many TV interviews about his ordeal back in the late 70’s which is where Hogan first became aware of him and then when this film became famous he sued Hogan, but lost the case and the fact that he made no money off of it became a major source of bitterness to him, which lead to his addiction to amphetamines that subsequently lead to his death in a police shootout in 1999.

Here’s a pic of Ansell alongside Hogan’s movie likeness of him:

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Peter Faiman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Arthur (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich drunk grows up.

Arthur (Dudley Moore) is an alcoholic man-child and heir to a vast family fortune, but only if he agrees to marry Susan (Jill Eikenberry), which his rich father (Thomas Barbour) pressures him to do.  Arthur does not love Susan and instead falls for commoner Linda (Liza Minnelli) who works as a waitress and shares a lifestyle that is completely different from his. Hobson (John Gielgud) is Arthur’s lifelong butler who is suffering from an undisclosed illness and expects not to be around much longer, so he thinks Arthur should get married, so he’ll have a wife to look after him once Hobson is gone.

This film was a box office success, but I failed to see what was so great about it when I first watched it decades ago and remain mystified after now seeing it again many years later. The film’s garbled message remains one of the biggest problems particularly the broad caricatures of all the rich people in Arthur’s life who seem stuck in some bygone era. The movie spends half the time mocking them, but then conveys the idea that true happiness can only come from becoming just like them. The benefits of being in the working class are never touched on and instead everything gets portrayed in a shallow, simplistic manner that lacks any true bearing in reality.

I was also surprised as to why Liza Minnelli’s character had to steal a tie at a men’s clothing store, which is where she first meets Arthur, as she really didn’t seem all that bad off. Sure she wasn’t living in the ritziest part of town, but she was far from being homeless. Her apartment that she shared with her father, played by Barney Martin, was roomy and adequately furnished. She also had a job and not in any way desperate and yet the movie spins it like she is, which shows that the filmmakers didn’t have any idea of what being truly poor is really like.

The dumb arranged marriage plotline has no connection to modern society and today mostly only occurs in south Asia, so why enter in an element in a supposedly ‘realistic’ comedy that doesn’t happen to regular people? It is also confusing exactly why Arthur’s father wants him to marry Susan. Supposedly it is so she’ll get him to ‘grow up’ or ‘make something of him’, which is hard to understand since she comes off as a wide-eyed dippy that is just as immature as he is if not worse.

A more interesting plot would’ve had Arthur lose his fortune and forced him to get a real job and deal with harsh realities that he had never had to face before. This would allow for a stronger character arch as well as some incisive social commentary. He also could’ve meet Linda while working a remedial job instead of the awkward forced way that he meets her here.

Gielgud’s quips are the best thing about the movie, but everything else is pretty limp. I have never seen the 2008 reboot starring Russell Brand, but after reading that film’s plot synopsis I think it’s an improvement as they seemed to have filled in the logic loopholes as to why Arthur was forced into an arranged marriage, which alone makes that superior to this one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Gordon

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Her Alibi (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Novelist falls for suspect.

Phil Blackwood (Tom Selleck) is the author of a successful series of mystery novels, but now finds himself dealing with writer’s block and unable come up with a plot for his next book. Then he meets the beautiful Nina (Paulina Porizkova) a Romanian woman charged with murder. With the help of his publisher Sam (William Daniels) they concoct an alibi that allows her to be released from jail on bond. She then moves in with him in his large home where Phil feeds off her presence to come up with his next story idea while also keeping an eye on her to make sure she won’t try to kill him when he is not looking.

Although Paulina got nominated for a Golden Razzie award for worst actress of 1989 (eventually losing out to Heather Locklear) I still came away feeling she was the best thing about this otherwise threadbare film. The former swimsuit model’s face is of course appealing and her accent is sexy, but what I liked even better is that she does not behave like most American beauties and instead is quite feisty, self-sufficient and opinionated. In many ways she upstages her more famous co-star by a mile and easily the one thing that helps propel this limp movie along.

Selleck has his charm, but he is not convincing at all as an author who should be nerdier and resemble a book worm.  The character appears to have had a very successful writing career already as evidenced by all the book covers of his novels that gets shown during the film’s opening credits, which is the coolest part of the movie. His large home makes it seem that he could retire in luxury and thus the storyline involving his writer’s block adds no urgency.

The film’s lighthearted tone makes it clear that Paulina is not a dangerous killer and that she’ll somehow be found innocent in the end making the scenes showing Selleck’s paranoia about her seem silly and adds no true tension or multi-dimension.

The romantic angle is equally botched as there is too much of an age difference between the two (20 years) making Selleck seem almost like a father figure. It’s also hard to understand why this beautiful young woman would fall for such a clueless idiot who comes off as a benign bumbling dope that she can easily manipulate. What’s worse is that she throws herself at him an hour into the runtime, so there’s no longer any question of romantic intent making the final 30 minutes virtually pointless.

Lots of slapstick scenes get thrown in that has nothing to do with the main story and simply there to pad the runtime. The dumbest of these occurs near the end where Selleck and friends think that they’ve eaten a dinner that was poisoned. In a misguided attempt to flush the poison out, Patrick Wayne, who plays Selleck’s brother, drinks Drano which is quite obviously dangerous. He spits it out, but that wouldn’t stop his mouth from burning, blisters from forming, or flesh from peeling away from his mouth, which doesn’t occur, but normally would’ve. Film characters drinking Drano had already been done before in the movie Magnum Force and it inspired real-life criminals to force their victims to drink it in the infamous Hi-Fi murders that happened in Ogden, Utah in 1974, so for that reason alone it should never be shown in another movie again and for such a superficial production like this to just randomly putting it in and acting like it’s ‘funny’ is utterly irresponsible.

The film starts out engagingly enough, but loses the air in its tire long before it’s over. Even the normally reliable William Daniels gets wasted. He is quite adept at playing pompous authority types, like in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’, but not as a passive schmuck like here.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Lovers and Liars (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lovers on the road.

Anita (Goldie Hawn) is vacationing in Rome and rooming with her friend Jennifer (Lorraine De Selle) while she auditions for roles in commercials that are being shot there. One day Jennifer’s married lover Guido (Giancarlo Giannini) comes over. He wants to have sex with Jennifer before driving off to Pisa to visit his dying father. Jennifer throws him out, so he gives Anita a ride where he continuously tries to make a play for her despite her constant resistance.

The flimsy set-up is the one thing that kills the film before it even gets started. The idea that putting any two people of the opposite sex together on a long car ride will be enough to elicit a romance is ridiculous. There needed to be more to tie these two together. Having them get together because they’re running away from the same person or a natural disaster would’ve given it a little more meat, but trying to create something from nothing like it essentially does here is about as vapid as you can get.

I realize that European films have the reputation of being more leisurely paced, but this thing takes that concept too far as virtually nothing happens. Certain elements get thrown in to inject some excitement like a big car pile-up that gets abruptly forgotten just as quickly as it gets introduced, but none of it helps to move the story forward

There is also no clear reason why either of these two characters would be interested in the other. Guido was than willing to jump into the sack with Anita’s roommate just a day before, but now acts like he can’t live without Anita and she’s the complete center of his world despite having nothing particularly special occur between the two of them. He even physically removes her from a taxi, so she’ll remain with him, which should’ve been enough to end the relationship and not continue it.

Guido gets portrayed as being the consummate player, so why get fixated on Anita who he’s only known her for a little while? As for Anita why fall for a guy that gets forceful and controlling? She’s successfully traveled the world this long without a man, so why suddenly settle for this womanizing dud?

The script is a poorly fleshed-out concept lacking character development or structure. It barely has any energy when they’re together, but then when they’re separated, which occurs during the second half, it gives even worse. There’s even a couple of misguided scenes dealing with Giannini speaking to strangers in Italian even though for the viewer’s sake it’s still done in English yet Hawn, whose character speaks only English, will still turn around and ask him what he had just said forcing him to repeat himself even though the viewer has already heard it.

It’s nice seeing Hawn chuck the ditzy blonde act and instead portray a feisty, confident woman, but pairing these two big box office heavyweights is not enough. There still needed to be a story and this vacuous thing doesn’t have one. Even Hawn fans will want to stay clear from this despite the fact that her presence is the only salvageable thing about it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 25, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes (Original European cut ran 2Hours)

Rated R

Director: Mario Monicelli

Studio: PEA

Available: DVD

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bored housewife seeks excitement.

Roberta (Roseanna Arquette) is a suburban housewife who’s bored with her life and looking for diversion. She gets hooked on reading the singles ads in her local newspaper and becomes especially intrigued by a couple, Jim (Robert Joy) and Susan (Madonna) who communicate with each other solely through the ads. When they advertise that they want to meet each other at a certain location Roberta decides to go undercover to that locale, so she can spot what they look like. Through various mishaps she becomes mistaken as being Susan and even starts a relationship with Jim’s best friend Dez (Aiden Quinn), but Roberta’s husband Gary (Mark Blum) begins searching for her and in the process forms a friendship with Susan.

The motivation for this plot is just too kooky to be believed. Okay, so Roberta is bored with her life, fine, but why get so intrigued by messages from some couple that she has never seen? If there was some guy sending messages directly to her through the ads as a sort of secret admirer I could understand or maybe if she had seen Susan in passing and became attracted to her through some latent lesbian feelings I could go with that too, but the way it’s done here is wonky. If a person is bored with their lives then they can join a social group, start a new hobby, or have an affair with their mailman, but stalking a couple that they have never met or seen is pretty damn far down the list if even on it. The fact that her husband was aware of her obsession of looking at these ads and wasn’t worried is pretty absurd too. I know the guy is portrayed as being clueless, but that’s being just a little too clueless.

Casting Madonna as Susan doesn’t help. Sure she was a big pop superstar at the time, but that still doesn’t mean she could act. Her presence fails to have the intended spark as she plays basically just a caricature of her rock ‘n’ roll image with a character that is poorly defined, lacks any distinctive qualities and could easily describe any of the hundreds of punk vagabonds that roamed the streets of New York.

Arquette fairs better and is genuinely appealing to watch, but she is too young for the role. She was 26 at the time, but could easily come off as being just 20. Why would such a young woman become bored with her life so soon as she looked to have just gotten married and living a generally plush suburban existence? It would’ve made more sense casting an actress who was in her 40’s and spent years toiling away as a housewife to an aloof husband and found Susan to symbolize her latent youthful rebellion, which would’ve been funnier especially seeing a middle-aged woman trying to dress and act like a punk instead of a young woman who wasn’t all that far removed from the punk scene age anyways.

The story does have some funny, insightful moments, but they tend to be fleeting and the scenario could’ve and should’ve been played-up much more. The leisurely pace is unusual for a Hollywood movie making it seem almost like a European one instead. It also gives off a nice vibe of Manhattan’s East Village giving the viewer a true feeling of the underground club scene there and very similar in feel to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, which also starred Arquette.

The film has strong satirical potential, but seems reluctant to fully go for the jugular and ends up being quite mild. I liked that fact that the character finds her suburban existence unfulfilling, which goes against the capitalist 80’s view of suburbia being the ultimate source of happiness and success, but that’s as edgy as this movie gets. Writer/director Susan Siedelman’s first feature Smithereens was far more caustic despite having a very similar theme. Perhaps with this being a studio film she felt that she had to tone things down, but this only helps to make the film feel flat and uneventful.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video