Category Archives: Comedy

The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sometimes opposites do attract.

Felix (George Segal) works at a bookstore, but dreams of becoming a successful novelist only to receive rejection letters every time he sends a manuscript out. One night while residing in his cramped New York apartment he spots, through his binoculars, his neighbor Doris (Barbra Streisand) accepting payment for sex and he immediately calls his landlord (Jacques Sandulescu) to report this and it gets her evicted. In anger she goes to Felix’s apartment at 3 in the morning to argue with him about what he did. The two share little in common, but eventually after hours of bickering they form a bond.

The film was originally written as a Broadway play, which in-turn was inspired by a poem of the same name written by Edward Lear in 1871. The play, which ran during the 1964-65 season, starred Alan Alda and Diana Sands and differed considerably from the film in that it had only two characters and one setting. The biggest change though was that in the play the Doris character was a black women, but the studio feared mainstream audiences weren’t ready for that, which is a shame. Streisand is amusing, but she’s unable to convey a tough street-smart attitude. Having an African American woman and a white man come together with vastly different socio-economic backgrounds would’ve made the polar opposites theme even more pronounced and their eventual bonding far more profound.

In an attempt to make the story more cinematic director Herbert Ross had the couple kicked out of Segal’s apartment and then forced to go to his friend Barney’s (Robert Klein) apartment. Initially this seemed fun as Segal and Streisand are allowed to sleep in the living room while Klein and his girlfriend (Marilyn Chambers) remain in the bedroom, but Segal and Streisand continue with their bickering, which forces Klein and Chambers to leave their own apartment, which made no sense. If the guests are the ones causing the racket then they’re the ones asked to leave not the people paying the rent. This also becomes a missed opportunity because it could’ve heightened the comedy by having the couple forced to move to seedier locations each time they’re kicked-out of the previous one.

During the second half Segal and Streisand enter a large home, which was apparently the residence of his fiance’s family, but this is jarring since there had been no mention of the fiancee earlier. It also works against the theme as these characters were portrayed as being lonely and forced to deal with each other despite their many differences because they had no where else to go, but then throwing in Segal’s connection to affluence ends up diminishing the desperation angle.

I also didn’t like that Doris got portrayed as being so painfully uneducated that she couldn’t understand some of the words Felix said, which was heavy-handed since his language wasn’t all that elaborate. I’ve found that most sex workers are quite defensive when it comes to the ‘they must be dumb’ stereotype and make concerted efforts to play against this. Most people, especially with someone they’ve just met, would never admit to not understanding some words spoken by the other because it would make that other person believe that they were intellectually superior and therefore given unfair leverage.

There are few funny moments but it mainly comes during the first half while the second and third act drone on.  The only real distinction are the opening credits, where a jazzy score by Blood, Sweat & Tears gets played while a greenish moon sets behind a cropped cutout of the New York skyline, which is pretty cool.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 3, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

Car Wash (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Having fun washing cars.

A look at the day-in-the-life of those working at a L.A. car wash. Mr. B (Sully Boyar) is the owner and frets about his employees not working hard enough, but too afraid to fire any of them for fear of retribution. Behind-the-scenes he’s having an affair with his young, but plain-looking receptionist Marsha (Melanie Mayron) who in-turn is more interested in a man with money and gets excited when a well-dressed one asks her out on a date. Lonnie (Ivan Dixon) is a recently released convict working at the car wash and raising a family, but finding it hard on the salary he’s given, which Mr. B refuses to raise. Duane (Bill Duke) is a Black Muslim revolutionary now going by the name Abdullah who preaches power to the people while Mr. B’s son Irwin (Richard Brestoff) who has just graduated from college and groomed to take over the business is more interested in being a part of the working class instead.

In many ways this could be described as a precursor to Clerks with a cinema vertite feel that captures the daily experience of working a mundane job quite well. The humor is restrained and never goes over-the-top making the dialogue between the cast and the pranks they play on each other believable and like something that could play out in just about any car wash or blue collar job across the country. The disco soundtrack, which includes the iconic title tune by Rose Royce, which is actually better than the movie itself, helps add to the 70’s ambiance as well as the fact that it was filmed on-location at an actual car wash, which has since been demolished, at 610 South Rampart Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately there’s not enough plot, or character development to hold it all together. The loosely structured approach, which initially comes off as fresh and original, eventually grows tiring without any type of genuine drama or story line to keep it compelling. There are also too many amusing bits that could’ve been strung out longer and even enhanced, but instead end up getting dropped almost as quickly as they’re introduced.

The cast is filled with too many characters and it’s hard to keep track of them, or understanding why they’re needed. At most car washes I’ve been there’s usually only one employee, or maybe two at the most, to wax the car, or rub it down after it’s been through the wash, but here it takes literally 5 or 6 guys to work on one car, which seems ridiculous. Cutting the cast down would’ve helped and having it centered around one main person instead of doing the ensemble thing would’ve been even better.

The appearances of George Carlin and Richard Pryor add very little and their screen times are so brief I was surprised they even accepted the parts. I was also disappointed that Lorraine Gary’s part was so short too. She’s best known for playing Roy Schieder’s wife in the Jaws films. Here she plays a stuck-up Beverly Hills housewife who’s more concerned about how her car looks than in the fact that her young son is sick. Her haughty attitude creates a delightful culture clash and I really thought she could’ve added some funny friction had she stayed in it all the way through and I really thought she would especially after her son throws up in the car just as they are leaving the lot making me think she would’ve simply backed-up the car and had them clean out the vehicle’s interior, since they had just done the exterior seconds before, but instead she apparently just goes on driving, but who would do that?

There are also potentially interesting story lines that never get adequately explored. The affair between Mr. B. and Marsha was one of them, but another had to do with a ‘pop bottle bomber’ that was terrorizing the city. At one point the crew thinks it’s an old man (Irwin Corey) that comes into the place, but find that’s a false alarm, but it would’ve been exciting had they eventually come into contact with the real one, which could’ve added intriguing dynamics both with the characters and plot.

Originally this was to be a musical, but for whatever reason Universal nixed that idea and decided to turn it into a plain-old comedy instead. I’m not necessarily a fan of musicals, but in this case the songs and dance numbers would’ve helped tie everything together as the script is otherwise too unfocused to remain captivating past the first 30 minutes.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 3, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: Universal

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

Oh, God! Book II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: God returns to earth.

Tracy (Louanne) is an 11-year-old girl who one day meets God (George Burns) when he invites her via a fortune cookie into the lounge of a Chinese restaurant where he asks her to help him spread the word that he exists. She then, with the help of her friends, creates posters that say ‘Think God’ which she puts up all over town, but this gets her suspended from school and then her parents (David Birney, Suzanne Pleshette) consider having her sent to a mental hospital after she keeps insisting that she’s spoken to the Almighty directly.

This follow-up to the 1977 hit lacks the freshness and originality of the first. The studio had initially wanted the John Denver character to return, but the producers insisted they wanted a ‘fresh start’ and not just continue the storyline from the first film. While the characters are different, the plot line remain the same causing the film to come-off like a boring reworking of the first one instead of a continuation.

Louanne, who now goes by Louanne Sirota, is adorable, which helps, but her hairstyle looks like something out of the 1940’s. She also believes in God right from the start even before she meets him, which doesn’t allow for any type of interesting character arch. It’s also quite  hard to believe that her ‘Think God’ poster campaign would have any affect and that a nonbeliever would somehow suddenly become a raging theist after spotting one of the amateurish looking signs.

Another issue is the God character who is full of idiosyncrasies. For one thing the concept of evolution gets glossed over and the film makes it like how we see things now in regards to animal and plant life is exactly how God envisioned them when they were created at the beginning of time. He also mentions having to sometimes sneeze, but why would a spirit need to do that? At another point he talks about answering phone calls, but why would there be telephones in Heaven?

It’s also confusing why God, who is supposedly an omnipotent being that knows what each person is thinking and feeling would need the help of a young child in order to ‘reach people’. He also seems like a cruel jerk as he coaxes this girl into this ad campaign, which puts her into a very traumatic situation as it gets her suspended from school and even on the brink of being put into an institution. If God is all-powerful why can’t he simply make himself appear on everyone’s TV at the same time in order to let everyone know that he exists instead of putting a young child through such unnecessary stress?

The humor is lacking and the only funny lines are the ones dealing with the big breasts of David Birney’s girlfriend (Denise Galik). I also didn’t understand why the word book gets put into the film’s title as there was never any second Oh God! novel written. Was this supposed to be a play-on-words in regards to the books of the Bible? If so then that joke, like just about everything else in the film, falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Summer School (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: No vacation this summer.

Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is not happy about having to teach remedial English to nine students during the summer break. He was about to fly off to Hawaii with his girlfriend, but then got picked at the last minute to teach the class when Mr. Dearadorian (Carl Reiner) who normally teaches it wins the lottery and decides to quit his job. At first Freddy lets the kids goof around and even takes them on a few field trips, but when his tenure gets threatened unless all the kids pass the test he decides he better take it seriously and make deals with the kids to do the same.

The biggest surprise here was finding that Mark Harmon could actually be funny. He was the son of a former Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback himself at UCLA during the 70’s who I always felt had the doors open for him in the acting biz simply because of his chiseled good looks and nothing more. I remember first watching him in the 80’s TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’ and finding him to be quite boring there and yet here he shows a whole new side of himself and in a lot of ways is the most engaging thing about the movie.

The film also manages to avoid the pitfalls of other 80’s comedies by not aiming for the gross out, sophomoric humor that permeated so many other teen films from that decade. Everything here is surprisingly restrained and in a lot ways this helps to make it funnier because it keeps things at a more realistic level. It’s also great to see a teen film that doesn’t deal with the generation gap or portray the adults as being overly stuffy, or out-of-it as Harmon comes off as being just as cool as the students.

While the film does have its share of amusing moment, with the driving lesson that Harmon gives to one of his students (Kelly Jo Minter) being the funniest, there are a lot of potential comic ideas that it never follows through on, which limits it from being as funny as it could’ve been. It also never bothers to explain where Harmon’s car keys were as one of the students took them on the first day forcing Harmon to go looking for them, but never shows how he found them, or where they were hidden.

The character of Chainsaw (Dean Cameron) I felt was a bit on the lame side. For one thing he looks too old for a high school student and was in fact already 24 when he played the part, but what annoyed me more was his obsession with the movie The Texas Chainsaw MassacreNow don’t get me wrong it’s a great movie, but it’s also very well known and obvious. It’s not all that gory either and it was the gore factor that supposedly his character like the most. If the kid was a true horror fan then he’d be aware of the obscure horror movies that the others wouldn’t be and if gore was truly his thing then the Italian giallo films would be more likely something that he’d obsess over.

The film’s feel-good ending in which Harmon is able to reach and inspire each student in some way hurts the film by not portraying the teaching profession in a realistic way. There will always be those students that a teacher will not be able to reach no matter how hard they try, which is one of the more frustrating aspects about the job, but the film never bothers to tackle this issue. Some may argue that this would’ve hurt the otherwise lighthearted tone, but good movies are able to sneak in serious side-issues and still make it work and the fact that this one doesn’t makes it glossy and forgettable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Summer Rental (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family vacations in Florida.

Jack (John Candy) is an over-worked air traffic controller who’s given a 5-week vacation to rest up. He decides to take his family down to Florida, but things prove to be even more chaotic there. First they move into the wrong rental property and then Jack has a confrontation with local sailing champion Al Pellet (Richard Crenna) who is a longtime resident that openly disdains the renters who visit during the summer. When Pellet gets ownership of the property that Jack is renting and threatens to throw Jack’s family out Jack decides to challenge him to a sailboat race even though his experience in sailing is limited.

Initially this movie comes off as a welcome change of pace from the typical 80’s comedy that usually dwelt too heavily in crude jokes and adolescent humor. Outside of one segment where a neighbor lady wants John to touch her breasts, which the viewer doesn’t see, to see how much he likes her new implants there’s no sexual innuendos at all, which is genuinely surprising since most 80’s comedies, even the tamer ones, seemed to feel the need to throw at least a few in. I even like the kids here. In most films they’re played-up in too cutesy of a way, or they’re obnoxious brats, but here the balance is just right.

The story though goes nowhere. The original idea was based on a vacation experience that producer Bernie Brillstein had in Southern California where he was a father of 5 children that rented a beach home that had two elderly sisters and a mentally challenged son as his neighbors on one side and a group of gay men on the other side, but none of these elements appear in the movie, which for the most part is uneventful.

Candy’s confrontations with Crenna, whose portrayal of a snobby, rich man is too broad of a caricature, are forced and not funny. Their climactic sailing race doesn’t work either. Sailing can certainly be a relaxing excursion, but watching it as a sporting event is not exciting. It also has Candy and his crew dumping out the contents of a freezer and eventually the entire freezer itself into the lake in an effort to get their boat to sail faster, but this is also obvious water pollution and not something a protagonist in a film should be doing.

Candy gives an appealing performance as usual and Rip Torn is fun as an aging ship captain although having him walk around with an actual hook for a hand is a bit much.  Some may even enjoy seeing Joey Lawrence when he was still a cute kid, but the plot, much like stagnant water, just sits there and the pace is too breezy making the material hardly worthy of a feature length production.

There’s also a glaring logic loophole that involves Candy and his family staying at what they think is their rental property only to be awoken in the middle of the night by the homeowners and told they were at the wrong place, but how were the keys that they were given able to open the locks on the doors if it was not the right home? They also were able to retrieve the keys from the mailbox of the place, which is where they were told they’d find them, but if that wasn’t the right house then the keys should not have been there.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 9, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Oh, God! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An atheist meets God.

Jerry Landers (John Denver) is a married man with two kids (Moosie Drier, Rachel Longaker) who works as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. He doesn’t consider himself to be religious nor does he attend church (he most likely could be called an atheist, but I assume that term was considered ‘too toxic’ of a label to put on a protagonist that mainstream audiences of the day were expected to like, so he’s just given the much softer description of being a non-believer.) One day he receives a letter in the mail stating that God would like to interview him at a certain location, but Jerry considers this to be a practical joke and throws it away, but when the letter keeps popping up at the most unlikely places he finally decides to take it seriously. He goes to the location and meets God (George Burns) who at first he does not see, but only hears, but eventually the almighty takes the form of an old man. He tells Jerry to spread the word that he exists, which Jerry does only to have it all snowball against him when everyone thinks he’s crazy and even his own family becomes embarrassed to be seen with him.

The film is based on the 1971 Avery Corman novel of the same name though the book had more of a satirical tone and the protagonist was a journalist. The film though manages to retain the same jaded sensibilities of the modern-day public, which is what makes it so amusing and for the most part quite on-target. Denver, who was known more as a singer and did very little acting both before or after this, is quite good here, but only if you can get past his bowl haircut. Burns is excellent as well and I always felt this is the performance he should’ve won the Academy Award for instead of the one in The Sunshine Boys as it easily became his signature role.

The script though by Larry Gelbart is full of incongruities. For instance the God here claims to be a non-interventionist who sets the process in motion and then lets things happen without getting involved. Everyone is given free will and he doesn’t intervene to stop suffering or ‘bad things’ from occurring because that would upset the ‘natural balance’, but then turns around and admits that he had a hand in such superficial things as helping the 1969 New York Mets win the pennant. He is also forced to become a ‘side show magician’ by performing what amounts to being magic acts, like doing a tacky card trick in front of a judge, in order to prove to Jerry and others that he really is the almighty. Yet he then becomes shocked to find that Jerry’s simple word-of-mouth as well as having Jerry pass out God’s ‘calling card’, which is nothing more than a white card with the word God on it, as not being enough to somehow convince others of the same thing.

There’s also a weird conversation, which I found loopy even as a child, where God tries to prove a point by explaining to Jerry that people only dream in black-and-white, which apparently was an accepted belief a long time ago. This idea has later been found to be incorrect, which is good as I’ve always dreamed in color, but it’s still off-kilter to have this supposedly all-knowing God argue a talking point from a debunked myth.

The performances by the supporting cast help  and in fact I consider this to be Teri Garr’s best role as I found her character arch to be more interesting than Denver’s. The aging Ralph Bellamy is good as an aggressive defense attorney and I also like Barnard Hughes as the overwhelmed judge. William Daniels is amusing as Denver’s snippy boss and a type of authoritative character he’d put to perfection years later in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. Paul Sorvino gets a few laughs too in a send-up of an over-the-top TV evangelist.

The only one that I had a problem with was Donald Pleasance who gets fourth billing, but only 2 lines of dialogue. With such a versatile talent as his you don’t want to waste it by giving him such a small role and unless a lot of his work here ended up on the cutting room floor I’m genuinely surprised why he even took it.

The film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately quite benign and nowhere near as ‘profound’ as some considered it. Nonetheless it was a big hit and even knocked Star Wars out of the top spot for 1-week. It also spawned 2 sequels as well as a TV-movie called ‘Human Feelings’ where Nancy Walker plays a female God set to destroy Las Vegas with a flood unless Billy Crystal, who plays an angel, can find 6 virtuous people that live there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Lovesick (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Therapist falls for patient.

Saul (Dudley Moore), who works as a psychoanalyst, starts to see a new patient, Chloe (Elizabeth McGovern) who he immediately starts having feelings for, but every time he fantasies about her he sees a vision of Sigmund Freud (Alec Guinness) in his head who advises him not to go through with it due to ethical issues. The problem is that Chloe also has feelings for Saul. Can the two work out a relationship despite being up against professional and societal obligations that won’t let them?

The biggest mystery here is why these two stars would choose to act in this project. Moore was coming off two mega hits at the box office and McGovern had just gotten nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the critically acclaimed Ragtime and yet they choose this vapid thing as their follow-up. I realize it was written by Marshall Brickman, who won the Oscar for his Annie Hall script, but not everything he touches will turn to gold and it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly that this screenplay isn’t on par with that one. In a lot of ways this thing, which was critically panned and just barely able to break even at the box office, could be blamed for sinking both of their careers. It also smothers their talents by forcing Moore to play a part in too normal of a way to the point that he isn’t funny at all and completely upstaged by everyone else. McGovern on the other hand, who was only 21 at the time, plays a woman who is more middle-aged, which squelches her youthful beauty and energy.

The supporting cast aren’t allowed to play to the full potential of their talents either. I was intrigued to watch the movie when I read the plot synopsis about Alec Guinness appearing as Freud, which I presumed would be really funny, but the concept does not get played-up enough and becomes completely dull and forgettable. Alan King with his abrasive personality is always good for a few sparks, but here his presence doesn’t add much and it would’ve been funnier had he been cast as a therapist.

The biggest disappointment is how Ron Silver gets misused. He plays the perfect composite of an arrogant, obnoxious actor that manages to give the film a slight boost, but then as it progresses his demeanor gets softened until he becomes as boring as everyone else and then by the second-half he gets dropped completely.

The story itself is unbelievable and hard to fathom how anyone could’ve given it the green light. The part where it jumps-the-shark is when Moore steals McGovern’s house key, breaks into her home, reads her private diaries and then eventually gets caught hiding in her bathtub, but instead of her becoming freaked out about this and running to the police she immediately goes to bed with him!

It’s not like therapists don’t sometimes have romantic feelings for their patients or vice versa, but that doesn’t mean they always follow through with their emotions, or if they did it most likely wouldn’t work out. The film here takes an intriguing concept and then glosses over all of the potential complications that would ensue. Everything works out too seamlessly by packaging a complex issue in too much of a cutesy way.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marshall Brickman

Studio: The Ladd Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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