Category Archives: Farce

Hot Stuff (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A phony pawn shop.

Tired of seeing the criminals they apprehend getting off on legal technicalities three cops (Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed, Suzanne Pleshette) decide to turn-the-tables by opening up their own pawn shop, which will work as a front to reel in the crooks that try to resell stolen items. They use the magic of a hidden camera and video tape, which was a new thing at the time, to record the criminals as they bring in the stolen loot and therefore leave no question as to their guilt, but their plan gets off to a rocky start and only gets more convoluted as they proceed with it.

The film, which was directed by DeLuise, starts out fast and includes a car chase before the opening credits even occur, but once the premise is established it bogs down. Supposedly much of what occurs is based on real-life accounts taken from various police cases, but it lacks cohesion. There are gun battles and a wide array of criminal characters that pop up out of nowhere with the pawn shop setting being the only thing that loosely ties it together. Any element of reality gets lost during its farcical ending, which involves all the criminals attending a party that quickly turns into a long drawn slapstick-like battle that resembles something found in a cartoon and is really inane particularly the pathetic ‘fights’ that occur between the various characters where it is clear the actors are pulling their punches and not doing a very good job of disguising it.

The film does make an effort, at least at the beginning, to show the private side of a cop’s life and many of the frustrations that go along with doing the job, but by the end the characters seem too comically inept to be believable. I also found it amusing that DeLuise uses his own children to play the kids of his character even though with their blonde hair they looked more like they should be Reed’s offspring instead.

The one funny moment comes when DeLuise smokes some weed and goes off on a long laughing binge that is genuinely memorable, but otherwise this thing, which was shockingly co-written by the normally reliable Donald E. Westlake, suffers from an uneven focus that is more content at showing slapdash comedy than conveying something that is original, interesting or multi-dimensional.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dom DeLuise

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

The Ritz (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in bathhouse.

On the run from is homicidal brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) heterosexual businessman Gaetano (Jack Weston) decides to hide out inside a Manhattan bathhouse unaware that it’s for gay men only until he’s already stuck inside. While there the overweight Gaetano gets harassed by an amorous chubby-chaser (Paul B. Price) as well as an aging starlet named Googie (Rita Moreno) who thinks Gaetano is a Broadway producer who can finally give her the long-waited break that she feels she deserves. Things get even worse when his brother-in-law finds out where Gaetano is hiding and proceeds to shoot up the place until he is finally able to weed him out.

For a farce, which is based on the hit Broadway play by Terence McNally and has much of the same cast recreating their roles for the movie, this thing is pretty much dead-on-arrival. The plot is thin and predictable and not enough happens to justify sitting through it. There are a few snappy lines here-and-there, but overall it’s effect is flat while filled with a lot of mindless running around that eventually grows quite tiring. Director Richard Lester has had success with this genre before, but the material here is unimaginative and second-rate and having everything confined to one setting gives it a claustrophobic feel.

The supporting cast gives the proceedings a boost and to some extent saves it from being a complete misfire. F. Murray Abraham nails it as a flaming queen and manages to elicit laughs with every scene he is in. Treat Williams is quite good as an undercover detective who’s a very well built man, but stuck with the voice of a 5-year-old. Jerry Stiller is surprisingly effective as the gun-toting bad guy and this also marks the film debut of John Ratzenberger.

Kudos must also go out to Moreno whose hilariously bad rendition of ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses’ is a film highlight. I also liked the precarious way that she puts on her eyelashes and the fact that her so-called dressing room is inside the building’s boiler room. The only performance that doesn’t work is Weston’s as his character is too naïve and his over-reactions to everything that occurs around him quickly becomes one-dimensional.

There may have been a time when this type of storyline would’ve been considered ‘fresh’ over even ‘daring’, but that time is long gone. In fact I couldn’t believe how tame and shallow it was. Whatever passed for farce back-in-the-day is no longer tangible, which makes this one relic that deserves its place on the back shelf of obscurity.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Brewster’s Millions (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He spends thirty million.

Richard Pryor plays Monty Brewster a struggling baseball pitcher in the minor leagues who has never earned more than $11,000 in a year, but finally gets his chance to be rich via a deceased uncle (Hume Cronyn) who leaves him a vast fortune, but with conditions. He must spend $30 million in 30 days in order to get $300 million and if not whatever is left over from the unspent $30 million will be given over to a law firm. He is also given the option to accept $1 million upfront with no strings, but he chooses the challenge only to find that spending a lot of money is even harder than making it.

The film is based on the 1902 novel of the same name by George Barr McCutcheon and this marked the seventh film version of that story. The novel though does things differently. In that version Brewster has already inherited one million, but given the chance to attain seven million if can spend the one million during a full year, which is a little more believable. Watching Brewster trying to spend the 30 million on any dumb thing that comes along gets dizzying and hard to keep track of until it eventually plays itself out by becoming a one-joke concept throwing out the same punchline over-and-over. Why the amount was raised to 30 million and the time span to spend it shortened isn’t clear. Possibly it was for inflation or simply to make it ‘more comical’, but it ends up getting wildly overblown.

With so many people out there who are poor and desperate it’s hard to be sympathetic to Brewster’s dilemma. Spending a lot of money foolishly simply to serve his own greed and attain even more isn’t exactly a noble mission. Had he at least tried to spend it on things that could help others, like in the novel, it might’ve made a little more of an emotional impact. The Pryor character is also portrayed as having very little confidence and therefore I would think in reality he would’ve just accepted the million, which in his eyes would’ve been a lot of money anyways and never bothered to take the challenge, which most anyone else would’ve found monumental and impossible.

Pryor isn’t funny at all and John Candy is far more amusing as his loyal friend, but unfortunately isn’t seen enough. Stephen Collins is good as the duplicitous Warren Cox and this also marks David White’s final film appearance, who is best known for playing Larry Tate on ‘Bewitched’ and whose name is strangely not listed in the film’s opening credits despite having a major role. Yakov Smirnoff and Rick Moranis can also be seen in brief bits.

The film was directed by Walter Hill who later referred to this as ‘an aberration’ and having only done it to ‘improve his bank account’. His forte is in action flicks and his attempt at comedy turns terribly flat from its first frame to its last. It is also in many ways similar to Trading Places, which coincidentally was written by the same screenwriter Hershel Weingrod, but that film was far better.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: Universal

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

Gus (1976)

gus

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mule becomes a kicker.

The California Atoms are the worst team in football and their owner Hank Cooper (Ed Asner) is desperate to try anything in order to get them winning and fans back into the seats. His secretary Debbie (Louise ‘Liberty’ Williams) reads an article about a mule living in Yugoslavia that is able to kick soccer balls at a long distance. He decides to have the animal and its owner Andy (Gary Grimes) shipped all the way from there to the United States where they hope to have the mule try out as a field goal kicker for the team. Since the rule book never specifically states that the players must be human they figure they can get away with it and do. The team starts to win again and Gus is a fan favorite, but mobster Charles (Harold Gould) doesn’t like it and hires two bumbling crooks (Tom Bosley, Tim Conway) to kidnap the animal, so he won’t be able to show up when the team plays in the all-important Superbowl.

Although as a kid I found this film to be enjoyable as an adult it comes off as boring and lacking. The idea that simply adding in a mule to kick long field goals would be enough to turn around a team’s dismal fortunes is highly suspect. For one thing a long distance field goal kicker will kick the ball at a much lower trajectory in order to get it to travel farther and thus the potential to block those kicks is much higher and yet for some reason that never occurs with any of Gus’s kicks, but most likely would. Also, just having a good kicker who can make field goals does not improve the defense that still must stop the other team from scoring. This team was described as getting blown out of every game that they were in, so how then does the defense start magically keeping the other team’s offense in check, so that the games remained manageable and Gus’s field goals would mean something?

The viewer never gets to see Gus kick an actual field goal anyways. What we see instead is the animal kick the ball and then the camera immediately cuts to a superimposed ball floating in the air with a corny sound effect tacked on and then another cut showing it gliding through the goal posts, but never an unedited long shot, which proves most likely no animal would be able to do the feat in real-life or able to do it in a consistently accurate way.

The comical elements aren’t too great either with the two best moments coming from a chase through a hospital as well as another one inside a grocery store, but even here there are problems. For one thing the super market chase, where Bosley and Conway try to corral the animal, goes on way too long and most likely the security or police would’ve been called in long before many of the antics that do occur would’ve happened. There’s also a tacky ‘life lesson’ thread thrown in dealing with Andy learning to have self-confidence, which does nothing but make the film seem even more contrived than it already is.

This marks Grimes’s last film to date as he ended up retiring from movies at the young age of 21 even though his career started off so promisingly with his starring role in Summer of ’42. He stated that the roles he was being offered were no longer up to his standards, but most likely studios were realizing that his acting abilities were limited and it was either get into another line of work, or be relegated to B-movie hell afterwards and his transparent presence here more than proves that.

Asner is the real star and has a few funny lines. I also enjoyed football legend Dick Butkus playing the role of a jealous boyfriend. His acting isn’t exactly good, but his constant expressions of aggravation are fun. Bob Crane in a brief bit manages to be a scene stealer as an obnoxious sportscaster who won’t stop talking until he finally loses his voice.

Kids may take to this more, but even then I’m not so sure as many of them may find it dated in a film that unfortunately can’t stand up to the test of scrutiny or time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 7, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated G

Director: Vincent McEveety

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

A Fine Mess (1986)

fine-mess-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They buy a piano.

Spence (Ted Danson) works as an actor and during a break in shooting, which is being done at a local horse track, decides to take a rest in a nearby horse stall. While he is there he overhears a conversation between two men (Stuart Margolin, Richard Mulligan) in the next stall discussing how they are going to inject a horse with a drug that will cause him to run faster and therefore make him a ‘sure thing’ in the his next scheduled race. Spence decides to use this information to bet on the horse and make a killing at the track with the help of his friend Dennis (Howie Mandel), but the bad guys realize that they’ve been found out and try to nab Spence and Dennis before they are able to place the bet. Spence and Dennis try to hide from their pursuers by attending an auction where they inadvertently purchase a piano, which they must later deliver to a rich customer (Maria Conchita Alonso) who is dating a mobster (Paul Sorvino).

I was genuinely shocked at how limp and threadbare this script was and how it routinely resorted to some of the most empty-headed humor I’ve ever seen. Much of it consists of long and extended chase sequences that aren’t particularly exciting or imaginative and rely on gags that we’ve all seen a million times before.

The casting is also off. Margolin can be a great character actor, but not in this type of role and Mulligan’s dumb guy routine and facial muggings is to me the epitome of lame. Danson doesn’t seem particularly adept at physical humor and shows no real chemistry with his co-star. Sorvino, who walks around with a limp, gets a few chuckles, but believe it or not I came away liking Mandel the best and actually found him to my surprise to be the most normal person in the movie.

The intention was to make this a completely improvisational exercise, which would give the actors free rein to come up with lines and scenarios as they went while relying on the broadest of story blue prints as their foundation, but the studio wanted more of an actual script and forced director Blake Edwards, who later disowned this project, to approach the thing in a more conventional way. The result is a mish-mash of nonsense that doesn’t go anywhere and makes the viewer feel like they’ve done nothing but waste their time in watching it.

All could’ve been forgiven had they at least played up the piano moving bit, which is what I was fully expecting. The inspiration was to make this a remake of the classic Laurel and Hardy short The Music Box with a scene, like in that one, where the two stars must somehow move an upright piano up a long flight of stairs. However, instead of showing this it cuts away to the next scene where the two have somehow without any moving experience gotten the piano up the stairs with apparently no hassle, but what’s the use of introducing a potentially funny comic bit if you’re not going to take advantage of it?

I still came away somewhat impressed with the way that it managed on a very placid level to at least hold my interest. I suppose in this era where scripts with a plethora of winding twists tend to be the norm one could almost deem this a ‘refreshing’ change-of-pace in its simplicity. Those that set their entertainment bar very low may enjoy it more.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Say Yes (1986)

say-yes-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marrying for the money.

Luke (Art Hindle) is set to receive a very large inheritance from his recently deceased grandfather (Jonathan Winters) who was the owner and founder of a prosperous toy company. The problem is that the will stipulates that he must marry within 24 hours, or the money will go to his father (Logan Ramsey) instead. Luke isn’t even dating anyone and so he must immediately go looking for a virtual stranger who’s willing to marry him on-the-spot simply for the profit. He finds that person in the form of Annie (Lissa Layng) who is a country girl visiting the big city and who Luke finds to be more down-to-earth than his other past girlfriends who now want to marry him simply so they can get their lecherous hands on his newfound fortune, but as they move ahead with their impromptu wedding his father tries everything in his means to put a stop to it.

Writer/director Larry Yust rose to some prominence in the film scene with his controversial film short The Lottery, which was based on the Shirley Jackson short story about a small town who stones one member of their community each year after their name gets randomly picked from a lottery. He followed it up with the Blaxploitation favorite Trick Baby and after that the offbeat horror flick Homebodies. While none of these films were masterpieces they still showed flair and creative potential, so why he would end up helming this dud, which is his last film to date, is a mystery, but the humor in this thing is excessively lame and the storyline utterly ridiculous.

Hindle makes for a very transparent and bland lead, but my real qualm came from his costar Layng who is a complete turn off in every way. I really hated her rural sounding accent and her phone conversation with her mother, who has even more of one, gets particularly annoying. Why Luke would choose her at random and become so very attached to her so quickly when a horde of other woman are chasing after him is never made clear and doesn’t make much sense.

Winters is the only good thing about this otherwise forgettable flick and it’s a shame he wasn’t made the star, but his ad-libs actually manages to elicit a few chuckles and what he does with his tongue at one point is rather obscene looking. I also enjoyed Logan Ramsey as his son even though in real-life he was four year older than Winters.

A slightly surreal segment where they go into a factory where workers are conditioned to crack open eggs in unison, which eventually leads to an egg throwing fight is the film’s one-and-only highpoint and even this isn’t much. I also got a kick out of the scenes with Anne Ramsey playing the part of a street preacher who tries to marry the couple first on the back of a speeding junk truck and then later while the three are floating in water with lifejackets on.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Yust

Studio: Cinetel Films

Available: VHS

The Busy Body (1967)

busy body

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Find the dead body.

George Norton (Sid Caesar) is a nebbish mama’s boy who, for whatever reason, gets taken in by Charley (Robert Ryan) a Chicago mob boss. Charley even gives George a seat on his board of governors. When a fellow crime boss (Bill Dana) gets killed in a freak accident it is George who selects a blue suit for the corpse to wear at the funeral. Unfortunately that blue suit was lined with a million dollars and Charley demands that George dig up the body and retrieve the money, but when he does he finds that the body is gone and thus begins a long, winding, ‘madcap’ search for the missing body and money.

Noted horror director/producer William Castle decided late in his career to give comedy a stab and this is the result. The beginning is mildly amusing, but the humor gets terribly strained and a 100 minute runtime is just too long for such trite material. Everything gets suppressed into silliness with an overplayed music score that has too much of a playful quality to it making the whole thing thoroughly ingrained on the kiddie level from start-to-finish.

Dom DeLuise has an amusing bit as a mortician that would really rather be a hairdresser and Kay Medford is quite funny as George’s doting mother, but the rest of the supporting cast is wasted, which includes Richard Pryor, in his film debut, playing in a role that does not take advantage of his comic skill. Caesar is just not leading man material and his vaudeville-like shtick is quite passé and predictable. His co-star Ryan is far funnier and without having to try half as hard.

The plot goes off on wild tangents until it becomes impossible to follow and quite pointless. The whole production is horribly dated and will not appeal to kids or adults. In fact the film’s intended audience has long ago passed away making this thing a silly relic of its time and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: William Castle

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

It’s Only Money (1962)

 

its only money

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: TV repairman gets rich.

Lester March (Jerry Lewis) is a dimwitted TV repairman who has a penchant for reading detective magazines and desires to become a private eye. When Pete Flint (Jesse White) who is an actual detective comes to his shop one day with a broken TV set Lester uses the opportunity to ‘audition’ himself as Pete’s assistant on his next case. Pete decides to try him out by putting him on a case involving a rich family whose heir to their fortune is missing yet when Lester starts to investigate he realizes it may be himself that they are looking for.

The script by John Fenton Murray comes off like it was written in one day and could’ve possibly been done by a 10-year-old in a matter of an hour. The plot is lame and flimsy, the humor excessively silly and the movie offers nothing new or creative. The running gag involving the Jack Weston character and his many attempts at trying to kill Lester is nothing more than a live action, subpar version of the Wiley E. Coyote/Road Runner formula.

How much one enjoys this film relies heavily on how much they can tolerate Lewis. To some extent he is mercifully more restrained here and not as obnoxious as usual, but there are still several scenes that get unnecessarily extended just so he can play up a gag that has nothing to do with the plot and isn’t funny. The biggest issue I have with the character is that he’s too unrealistically and painfully stupid. It’s one thing to be a slightly dimwitted schmuck, but this guy speaks and acts like he has a severe mental defect and needs clinical help.

Mae Questel, who was best known as the voice of cartoon character Betty Boop, is far funnier and without trying half as hard. The scene where she gets into a tight jumpsuit despite being quite overweight and elderly and then tries to do some exercises will certainly elicit a few genuine chuckles from just about anybody and the only real funny part in the movie. Weston isn’t too bad as the nemesis especially the scene involving his attempts to run Lester over with a car.

The climactic sequence involves Lester being chased around by robotic lawn mowers, which offers a slight diversion, but the rest of the film is forgettable and subpar even for Jerry Lewis standards.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 21, 1962

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Frank Tashlin

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, You Tube

The Secret of My Success (1987)

secret of my success

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has lofty ambitions.

Brantley Foster (Michael J. Fox) has just graduated from high school and wants to take a stab at the big city. He has a nice job lined up, but when he gets there he finds that they’ve become victims of a hostile corporate takeover and his position is no longer available. His mother (Elizabeth Franz) tells him about his rich Uncle Howard Prescott (Richard Jordan) who is a CEO of a major firm. Brantley meets with him and manages to get a job in the mailroom, but then comes up with a scheme where he masquerades as a company executive while romancing an attractive boss (Helen Slater) and even his uncle’s wife (Margaret Whitton).

Fox is terrific in the lead and his engaging and likable presence makes up to some degree for the film’s other numerous shortcomings. There are a few funny scenes including the one where Brantley pretends to be an orchestra conductor by using the sound of a couple making love in the next apartment as his ‘music’. The bird’s eye shot of a group of executives jogging around a track that is situated on a roof of a Manhattan skyscraper is fantastic and my favorite moment of the whole film. Brantley’s scheme though is ridiculously over-the-top with no chance of ever successfully occurring in the real world, which makes the story less entertaining since the believability factor gets thrown out to the point that it becomes a completely inane farce by the end.

The humor is also too broad and would’ve worked better had it tried instead to be more subtle. A good example of this is where Brantley gives a limo ride to Howard’s wife Vera. Initially Vera is quite cold and bitchy towards him, but then he throws her a line of how he’d feel like ‘the luckiest man in the world if he awoke each morning with a beautiful woman like her lying next to him’, which is enough to ‘melt’ her cold exterior and have her invite him back to her place where she shamelessly comes onto him and even goes skinny dipping with him in her backyard pool. Yet I’d imagine an attractive, rich woman such as herself would get lines like that thrown at her all the time by other men and how would she know that Brantley, whom she had just met, wasn’t any different than the rest of them and simply looking for a way to get her between the sheets or at her money. There is no way a woman of that age and social pedigree would foolishly let down her guard that quickly and easily especially for a line that is rather unimaginative and corny.

I realize this is supposed to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it goes overboard and too much of a good thing is never good. The so-called ‘American Dream’ is all about persevering and overcoming hardships and obstacles not like it is here where we have some wet-behind-the-ears kid who magically has all the answers while essentially cheating his way to the top in record time without even breaking a sweat and making everyone else who actually works for a living look like complete fools in the process.

A little grit and realism would’ve helped and at least given it some much needed balance, but instead it’s completely lacking, which ultimately makes it shallow, superficial and silly and not worth the time.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Universal

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

Goin’ Coconuts (1978)

goin coconuts

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Donny and Marie movie.

Donny and Marie Osmond, the brother and sister act from Utah who had a short-lived variety show on ABC during the late ‘70s, take their act to the big screen in this thinly plotted comedy aimed solely at the kiddies. The story has them flying to Hawaii for a performance, but not before a mysterious Priest (Jack Collins) hands them a necklace. Marie decides to wear it not knowing that it is stolen and wanted by various and competing criminals. Will the non-stop barrage of attempts that the thieves make to get the necklace back end up driving the pair nuts? Will this break up their act or better yet will any of this cause you not to sleep at night?

I think the funniest thing about this flick is that it took two writers to come up with a concept that a 6-year-old could’ve thought up in less than a minute. The script is clearly threadbare material and the forced hijinks and ‘zany’ villains aren’t any better. I realize this is aimed at the younger crowd, so one must measure it in a different way, but even so it doesn’t have enough action or special effects to hold their attention and kids of today will probably have no idea who Donny and Marie are or even care.

I realize the Osmonds have been plagued their whole careers with their ‘goody-goody’ image that at one put even gets made fun of by the Kenneth Mars character, but with that said they’re still quite likable and they really can sing rather well. I liked some of their brother-sister banter and the gender bending scene of having Marie driving a motorcycle. I was also impressed with how mature these two were especially when you consider that Donny was only 20 at the time of filming and Marie was 19.

The recognizable character actors who make up the supporting cast helps a little. This marks the final film appearance for both Ted Cassidy and Khigh Dheigh. In Cassidy’s case I was genuinely surprised to find that he passed away less than 3 months after this film’s release as he appeared quite young and energetic.

Mars does another of his over-the-top caricatures that closely resembles the one he did in The Producers, which should make it old and tiring, but he still manages to somehow keep it fresh and lively. Herb Edelman is fun as the high-strung manager and famous bad guy Marc Lawrence has an amusing bit trying to chase down the pair while driving a car with an old lady passenger.

Osmond fans may rate this slightly better, but there’s very little to recommend and best viewed as a curio on a slow night.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 6, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Morris

Studio: Osmond Entertainment

Available: VHS, DVD