Category Archives: Fast Cars/Car Chase

The Cannonball Run (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very stupid movie.

This film is based on the same real-life cross country race that also inspired The Gumball Rally and Cannonball, but unlike those two, which weren’t very good anyways; this movie doesn’t emphasize the race and doesn’t even get going with it until 35 minutes into the runtime. Instead the viewer gets treated to one lame, cornball gag after another making the already threadbare premise seem like only an afterthought.

The most surprising thing is that the screenplay was written by Brock Yates, who was the man who came up with the idea for the race back in 1971 and was participant in all 4 times that it ran. In fact both he and director Hal Needham took part in the 1979 race as driving partners using the very same ambulance that Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise use in the movie. The two pretended to be actual paramedics in order to avoid being stopped by cops when they sped. They even hired a medical doctor to ride along in back to make it seem more legit in case they did get pulled over and Yates’ wife was used as a pretend patient. They almost won it too out of 46 other participants that ran, but lost when their transmission conked out 50 miles from the finish line.

You would think if the script was written by someone who had actually driven in the race that he would’ve been able to offer more insight about the experience, but instead we get bombarded with ‘zany characters’ that are so outlandishly over-the-top that you feel embarrassed for the actors playing them.

The only interesting aspect is the eclectic cast that unfortunately, like with the movie, seem uninspired and going through the motions simply to collect a paycheck. Reynolds, who admitted in interviews to not liking the movie and having ‘sold-out’ simply for the salary, is especially lethargic. He’s not involved in much of the action and never even seen driving while wearing what looks like a wig and ultimately at the cusp of what would eventually be a major career downturn that he was never able to fully recover from.

Supporting players seem almost exploited particularly Jack Elam whose real-life handicap gets used to make his character seem ‘crazy’. Back when he was a child he got into a fight with another kid at a Boy Scout meeting and his left eye was poked with a pencil, causing him to lose his sight with it and giving him a perennial ‘lazy-eye’ that never moved in tandem with his right one. To help make this less pronounced he grew a mustache and beard, but here that gets shaved off making his weird gaze more pronounced, but the ‘crazy look’ gag is a boring one-joke that gets way overplayed.

Dean Martin, in his first movie in 6 years, looks old and washed-up. His Rat Pack partner Sammy Davis Jr. is also on-hand, but is much more energetic and into it while Martin walks around constantly with a drink in hand and looking ready for the grave.

The only member of the cast that comes off well is Farrah Fawcett who was at her all-time hottest and is just cute enough to keep the film passable, but the rest of it is worthless. Silly humor is okay as long as other elements are wrapped around it, but this thing has nothing else to offer. It’s just one stupid comedy bit after another that will prove too moronic for even those with a low bar.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Harper Valley PTA (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She gets her revenge.

Based on the hit 1968 song the story centers on Stella Johnson (Barbara Eden) whose liberated single life style and provocative way of dressing is considered ‘scandalous’ by the prudish members of her local school board. They give a letter  to her daughter Dee (Susan Swift) to be send home for Stella to read, which informs her that if she doesn’t ‘clean up her act’ they’ll have her daughter expelled. Stella then goes to the school board meeting and exposes all of their dirty secrets and then continues the harassment by playing dirty pranks on them one-by-one.

The song, which was written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Riley, was a cute novelty ditty that encompassed the social rebellion of the late ‘60s through the scope of small town southern life. The film though ruins the song’s appeal by overplaying its theme and losing touch with its core issue.

The song had a very heavy country tinge to it making it seem that the setting should’ve been the Deep South, but for some reason the film takes place in Ohio instead. It also has the time period as being the present day, late ‘70s, which makes some of the lines in the song, which Stella reiterates pretty much word-for-word when she tells the board members off, seem dated and out-of-touch. Stuff like sock-it-to and ‘Peyton Place’ referred to hit TV-shows that by the late ‘70s had already been off the air for years, so the film should’ve either updated the script to make it more topical to the times, or had the time period be in the ‘60s, which like with the southern locale would’ve given the film a far stronger atmosphere.

Having Stella tell off the board members like in the song seemed sufficient, but having her continue her efforts by pulling elaborate pranks on them made it come off like overkill and in some cases borderline cruel and even criminal. The fact that other people in attendance at the board meeting clap and cheer when Stella humiliates the PTA board makes it seem that these people are on their way out and don’t have much of a hold over anything, so watching Stella continue to humiliate them further is not emotionally satisfying. They’re also so easily taken advantage of that the pranks cease to be either entertaining or funny.

The only segment that is genuinely fun is the one where a sex ed. film gets shown to the high school students. The film seems to be an actual product from the early ‘60s and features rather graphic animated illustrations. We unfortunately only get treated to a couple of minutes of it even though it was the funniest thing in the movie without ever actually trying to be.

Eden looks gorgeous and probably even hotter than she did in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ minus the harem outfit. If you watch this for basic eye candy then you’ll be satisfied, but she speaks initially with a southern accent that she ends up losing by the second half.

John Fiedler gives good support by appearing fully nude in one segment despite not having the physique for it, so I commend his bravery. Audrey Christie shows equal regard by exposing herself with her head completely shaved, but overall the only character that I really liked was Susan Swift’s who seems the most relatable and like with the song her character should’ve been the central one and not Eden’s.

The threadbare premise gets stretched out far longer than it should. The story and the many pranks have a very redundant and mechanical quality to them that quickly becomes old. I’m not sure whose idea it was to try to turn the song into a movie, but it was one that should’ve been shot down quickly and never seen the light-of-day.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard C. Bennett

Studio: April Fools Productions

Available: DVD

Special Delivery (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stolen loot in mailbox.

Jack Murdock (Bo Svenson) manages to pull off a daring bank robbery, but in an effort to elude the police he stashes the bag of money inside a mailbox and then waits for the late night mailman to open it up, so he can retrieve it. In the meantime he must deal with ditzy Mary Jane (Cybill Shepherd) who resides in an apartment just across the street from the mailbox and witnesses what Jack has done. She agrees to help him, but only if she can get a part of the take. They also must deal with a local bartender named Graff (Michael C. Gwynne) who is also aware of what Jack did and becomes determined to get at the cash before they do.

Although the film is labeled as a comedy it really isn’t. There are a few quirky conversations between Jack and Mary Jane, but it’s not much and most of the movie is quite gritty and tense. Watching the men trying to escape from the police by precariously climbing up the side of a building using nothing but a rope is realistically done and had me on the edge-of-my-seat. The scene where Mary Jane gets surrounded by a gang of bikers who try to rape her borders on being quite unpleasant and should’ve been excised as it adds nothing to the story, but in either case it solidifies this has being a hard-edged action flick that is anything but funny.

The plot is solid for the most part with my only complaint being that I’ve never seen, in any city that I’ve lived in, an outdoor mailbox with a late night mail pick-up of Midnight, or in this case 11:45 PM. Most mail boxes list 5 or 6 PM as the latest pick-up time and it would’ve worked better had it been earlier anyways as the darkness takes away a bit from the action. I also wanted the mailbox location to have been on an actual street corner and not a studio backlot as it would’ve given the film a more genuine atmosphere.

Svenson is amiable in the lead and seeing this really big, physical guy being so relatively soft-spoken creates a likable character. I also enjoyed the line he says to a group of bikers that he decides to single-handedly take on: “There’s one of me and only three of you.”

Shepherd is also quite good. I know I’ve bashed her in some of other film roles, but here her personality fits the part as she creates a kooky lady with a nice balance between being both eccentric and conniving.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending though is the one time that the film sells itself out as it features the two driving in a van that goes off a cliff and bursts into flames. The bad guys think Jack and Mary Jane were killed, but they managed to somehow escape it before it went over, but the film never shows us how this was done, which is a cop-out.

There is also a tacked-on twist that features the couple, having now successfully eluded both the bad guys and authorities, vacationing on a cruise ship where they catch the attention of two women, one of whom is the wife of the manager (Sorrell Booke) of the bank that Jack robbed. The women plot to make a play at Jack because they can tell from the outfit that Mary Jane is wearing that they are rich and therefore want to get at their money, but why reintroduce a character like the bank manager into the story when he was only seen briefly at the beginning and had very little to do with the main plot? And for that matter why should a wife of a bank manager plot to rob somebody else as she should be living an affluent lifestyle to begin with?

End of Spoiler Alert

Overall I found this to be a surprisingly fun movie that enters in just enough offbeat ingredients to make it original, but keeps the action consistently coming, which should be enough to please those that like excitement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Wendkos

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS

The Driver (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A professional getaway driver.

Ryan O’Neal plays a man who makes a living as a getaway driver for crooks leaving the scene of a crime. His driving skills are superior and in the criminal underworld his services are in high demand. Bruce Dern plays a police detective obsessed with catching this elusive driver. He makes a deal with a couple of bad guys (Joseph Walsh, Rudy Ramos) to hire this driver for their next robbery and then set him up for a police trap. The Driver is initially reluctant to work with the two, but eventually joins them only to ultimately look for help from a beautiful French woman known as the Player (Isabelle Adjani) to get him out of his jam.

I’ve never been much of an O’Neal fan, but here his lack of acting depth makes the movie more intriguing. The part was originally intended for Steve McQueen who would’ve given the role the stereotypically gritty treatment, but O’Neal has more of a boyish male model demeanor which makes you question whether he is tough enough, or brazen enough to handle the driving demands, so seeing him flourish when you’re not quite expecting it gives the character an interesting edge. I also liked the fact that at times even he conveys nervous facial expressions as he takes the vehicle through dangerous turns, which helps show even the ‘cool guys’ are human.

Dern easily steals the picture as he continues to find entertaining ways to give unique and memorable touches to all the characters that he plays. The dialogue that his character utters conforms yet again to his patented delivery. For instance he accuses his partner (Matt Clark) of possibly being a ‘fruitter’. In the past men of the gay persuasion were sometimes called ‘fruits’, but never a ‘fruitter’ which is a word he totally makes-up and would be considered inane and silly if said by anyone else, but when said with Dern’s patented delivery it makes the character seem even more unhinged and threatening instead. In fact Dern’s conversations with Clark are some of the movie’s best moments.

Although Adjani’s screen time is limited and I still enjoyed her presence and the fact that she doesn’t show any of the typical female vulnerability, but instead seems more stoic than any of the men makes her stand out from other female characters of that era. It’s also fun seeing her facial expression turned to an almost catatonic state during the film’s high octane final chase sequence.  Ronee Blakely doesn’t fare quite as well as she says her lines in too much of a monotone fashion though the ironic way that her character meets her demise does deserves a few points.

The chases are exciting particularly the opening one, which is done at night and the one done inside a car garage in which O’Neal intentionally destroys the car that he is driving in an attempt to teach the two other occupants that he is with a lesson. The cat-and-mouse scenario inside an abandoned warehouse that makes up the bulk of the film’s final chase is slick as well, but I felt there needed to be at least one more chase added as the film gets talky in-between and away from the action, which is what people that come to these type of films genres expect especially with the title that it has.

Writer/director Walter Hill shows a keen eye for detail and manages to capture everything, even an abandoned parking garage with a stylish allure. The script is smart and sophisticated with the character’s expressing themselves by using only the most minimum of words possible. The plot has a unique quality, but still manages to stay believable and why this thing failed at the box office and was chastised by the critics at the time is hard to understand, but it’s gained a strong cult following since and deserves more attention for being years ahead-of-its-time.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

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

Aloha, Bobby and Rose (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: They dream about Hawaii.

Bobby (Paul Le Mat) enjoys racing cars and shooting pool, but resists being tied down with a steady job. Rose (Dianne Hull) is a young single woman trying to raise a small child on her own while still living with her mother (Martine Bartlett). By chance the two meet one day and instantly hit-it-off. They decide they want to run away together to the exotic locale of Hawaii, but lack the funds. Bobby tries to hold up a liquor store by using a fake gun, but the shop’s owner comes out of a back room and threatens to kill him, so Rose hits the man over his head with a bottle and the gun accidently discharges and kills the young clerk. Now the two must go on the run and evade the police who are after them.

Unfortunately the basic premise here is highly flawed making it hard if not impossible to get into it. For one thing there was no one else in the liquor store to ID the young couple, so the police would not necessarily be looking for them. Secondly the clerk was shot by the store owner, not by Bobby or Rose and the gun is clearly in the man’s hands when he falls to the ground. A simply residue test would prove that he was the one who fired the weapon and it wasn’t just planted on him afterwards. Since there was no one else in the store Bobby and Rose could simply say that the owner and clerk got into an argument and the owner threatened to kill the young man, so in an effort to save him Rose hit the owner with a bottle, but the gun went off anyways. There would be no else to refute this barring that the owner did indeed die and even if he had survived it would simply be his word against there’s and ultimately he would still be the one caught holding the gun, so in essence these kids seem to be running for no real reason.

There is another scene later on where the two crash the car they are driving and conveniently find another one sitting in a dark alleyway. The movie doesn’t even bother to show Bobby hotwiring it, which is how they usually steal cars in the movies, but later on we see him turning the ignition to the car in an effort to start the vehicle. This then signals that the keys were left in the ignition when they found it and the windows rolled down, but how many cars does one find out on the street, or anywhere for that matter, that are like that?

I did appreciate that the film shows in slow motion their heads hitting and cracking the windshield during the accident as this is what will occur especially when the occupants are not wearing their seatbelts. Yet later on they go into a washroom and wipe the blood away with a wet cloth and it’s all gone, but bleeding from the head most likely means that the skull was cracked and would require stitches, which means continual bleeding even if the dried blood gets erased.

The location is wrong as well. The setting is Los Angeles, but several characters speak with southern tinged accents and just about all of them convey small town sentiments. Very little footage is shown of the two actually out on the open road and the music that gets played is a scattershot mix of ‘70s tunes that runs the gamut of musical genres and never gives the film any unifying sound or mood.

The supporting cast helps a bit. I enjoyed seeing Robert Carradine looking like he was still in high school. Tim McIntire adds some verve as an outspoken Texan who has no qualms mixing-it-up with anyone that he comes into contact with and Bartlett is engaging as the flaky mother, but the story meanders too much and goes nowhere. There were many road movies that came out during the 70’s and many of them were well done, but this isn’t one of them.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Floyd Mutrux

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

S.O.B. (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes topless.

Movie producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) is suffering from what they call in Hollywood as Standard Operating Bullshit. His recent film, a family oriented musical that starred his wife Sally (Julie Andrews) and was titled ‘Night Wind’ is a box office flop. Now no one wants to work with him and the studio tries to reedit the film in an attempt to ‘save it’. All of which sends Felix on verge of suicide until he gets the idea of turning the movie into a soft core porn flick and having  Sally bare her breasts in it.

The film is loosely based on experiences that writer/director Blake Edwards had along with his real-life wife actress Julie Andrews during the early ‘70s when their project Darling Lilli did not do well financially and his next several films after that met with lots of studio interference before he was finally able to rebound by resurrecting the Pink Panther franchise.

The satirical jabs are obvious but amusing and the real problems come more with the shallow/jaded characters. Even the wholesome Sally comes off as cold with her rather ambivalent reaction to her husband’s depression/suicide attempt. There is also a running gag dealing with a man (Herb Tanney) who has heart attack at the beach while jogging and his loyal dog stays by his side even though no one else pays attention to it, which starts out as darkly amusing, but eventually gets cruelly overplayed.

Mulligan makes a flat impression as the star to the point of being almost transparent. For the first half he doesn’t say a single word while behaving in an overly exaggerated despondent way. When he finally snaps out of this he then eagerly tries to sell-out on his own film vision simply so it can make a buck, which makes him no better than the rest of the scummy Hollywood elites that he is supposedly trying to fight. Andrews is boring too and her brief topless scene comes off as exploitive and ill-advised.

The best bits come from its supporting cast. Robert Preston as the perpetually inebriated doctor has a few great lines and Robert Webber does well as a very nervous, high-strung press agent. Loretta Swit is hilarious as a bitchy, cantankerous gossip columnist who gets cooped up in a hospital after an accident and an almost unrecognizable Larry Storch hams it up under heavy make-up as a spiritual guru. There is also Robert Vaughn wearing high heels and women’s clothing.

I enjoyed the film within a film approach and the tawdry dream-like sequence scene, but the story suffers from adding in too much slapstick including a drawn-out car chase that seems suited for a completely different type of movie. For mild comedy it is okay, but as satire it fails to make any strong or impactful statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Paramount

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

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The one room schoolhouse.

Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) is a former bank robber hiding out as a Montana preacher while trying to avoid Red (George Kennedy) and Eddie (Geoffrey Lewis) who are his former crime partners that mistakenly believe he double-crossed them. One day they manage to catch up with him and try gunning him down during one of his church services. Thunderbolt escapes by hopping into a car driven by Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). Despite their contrasting temperaments and ages of the two end up hitting-it-off and even manage to bring Red and Eddie into the fold once it’s explained to them that Thunderbolt hadn’t sold them out. Now the four plan to rob the same bank again using a 20 millimeter cannon to break into the safe.

This was the Michael Cimino’s first foray behind the camera after having success co-writing the screenplays to Silent Running and Magnum Force.  For the most part it’s a success and I particularly enjoyed the way he captures Montana’s majestic landscape, which helps add a strong flavor to the story. Some of the comical bits and throwaway lines are hilarious and gives the film an edge over the usual bank robbery storyline.

The drawback is that like with Cimino’s other films it takes too long for the story to get going. The Thunderbolt’s backstory doesn’t get explained until almost 50 minutes in and we never learn much of anything about Lightfoot or why he would simply appear almost out of nowhere in this tiny, isolated town for literally no reason. There are certain scenarios that get introduced, but offer no payoff and the robbery itself gets pulled off a little too easily while not taking enough advantage of its unique premise.

The acting though is uniformly excellent including Bridges who is at his most engaging and even looks weirdly sexy when disguised as a woman and I loved the part when he talks to himself in the mirror. Kennedy gets one of his better post Cool Hand Luke roles as the cantankerous Red and Lewis is funny as his dim-witted partner.

The film also has some great bits for its supporting cast. Cliff Emmich is amusing as an overweight security guard with a porn fetish and Jack Dodson has a memorable moment when he finds to his shock that his teenage daughter isn’t quite as ‘innocent’ as he thought she was.

Bill McKinney is goofy as a crazy man driving around in a car with a trunk full of rabbits, but like with a lot of other things in the film it introduces something that doesn’t get fully explained including the fact that the character seems to be acting erratically because he is overcome by toxic gas fumes from his own car, but when Thunderbolt and Lightfoot take over the car and drive it for themselves they don’t for some reason end up having the same issue.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Director: Michael Cimino

Rated R

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Alien Nation (1988)

alien-nation-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newcomers integrate into society.

Sam ‘George’ Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) is an alien who along with 300,000 of his kind land on earth near the Mojave desert in the year 1988 and become known as newcomers. After initially being quarantined they are let out in 1991 and become a part of everyday society. Matt Sykes (James Caan) is a cop whose partner is killed during a shootout with some criminal newcomers. George and Matt then team up to investigate the crime as well as a similar one that seems to be linked to Warren Harcourt (Terence Stamp) a successful newcomer businessman. Matt initially does not trust George and even shows an open bias towards him, but eventually the two form a bond.

The concept is unique in that unlike most sci-fi films the actual spaceship landing becomes only a minor part of the story and just briefly touched on in film’s first couple of minutes before quickly moving into the main theme of seeing how the humans and aliens learn to coincide. The idea of using this to then further examine racism and bigotry may have been a noble one, but it ends up not getting played up as much as I thought it would. The fact that the aliens have assimilated into society as quickly as they do (only 3 years) makes it seem like even if there is resistance to it by some it’s of a small level and for the most part the aliens have it pretty good.

There’s also a myriad of questions that never get addressed. Why exactly were these aliens sent here and will more come along later? Which planet are they from and if they were conditioned to be efficient workers who are highly adaptable then why are there so many seen on street corners and apart of gang that do no work at all. Nothing from their culture is retained and outside of their strange appearance that looks like burn victims with skin grafts there is not all that much difference between them and their human counterparts. They even end up bleeding red blood when they get shot.

The film’s most interesting part is George’s and Matt’s relationship, which starts out rocky, but slowly evolves and even at one point has a humorous moment where Matt tells George a ‘really funny’ joke that George, much to Matt’s frustration, can’t seem to appreciate. Both Caan and Patinkin give excellent performances as the characters go through a wide array of emotions with George seeming at times to be more human-like.

The criminal investigation and mystery dealing with a drug called Jabroka I didn’t find to be as compelling and the final showdown between Matt and Harcourt was to me a yawner. The alien angle comes off more like a thinly disguised attempt to make what amounts to being just another formulaic cop action pic seem unique and ‘profound’ when it really isn’t.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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