Category Archives: Parody

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

fiendish

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Peter Sellers’ last movie.

Fu Manchu (Peter Sellers) is a 168-year-old man, who on his birthday must drink a elixir vitae in order to remain youthful and alive. When one of his servants (Burt Kwouk) brings in the formula his shirt sleeve catches fire from all of Fu’s birthday candles and it causes the servant to use the elixir to put the flames on his sleeve out. This forces Fu to have his henchmen go on a international crime spree to find the necessary ingredients to create a new youthful formula for him to drink. After one of Fu’s men steals a diamond in an exhibit it catches the attention of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roger Avery (David Tomlinson) who then calls in two F.B.I. agents (Sid Caesar, Steve Franken) to help him on the case. They also visit the aging Nyland Smith (Peter Sellers) who is a former adversary to Fu and knows his traits well, but Nyland has become senile and eccentric. They also use the services of Alice (Helen Mirren) an undercover police detective who masquerades as the Queen, which they feel Fu’s men will try to kidnap, but when Alice gets kidnapped she falls-in-love with Fu and agrees to help him in his crimes.

This marked Peter Sellers last film and for all purposes it may well be the worst one he was in. He was just coming off high praise for his performance in the critically acclaimed Being There, but instead of using his career resurgence to find more highbrow fare he instead reverted back to his old ways of campy comedy. During the early 70’s, when he was in a lot of duds, his excuse was that he was doing it only for the money, but in this case I’m not sure of his reasoning. In any event it’s a train wreck from the first frame to the last.

Initially he was going to team-up with director Richard Quine as the two had worked together two years earlier in The Prisoner of Zenda, but they had a falling-out before production even began. Piers Haggard was then brought in to take Quine’s place, but he became horrified to learn that Sellers had taken it upon himself to rewrite the script turning it from a plot driven story into a cheap gag-a-minute stuff that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Haggard, despite Sellers objections, tried to turn the screenplay back to what it was, or at least in Haggard’s words, ‘give it something that resembled a beginning-middle-and-end’, but his attempts were futile and the whole thing becomes one, long misguided farce that goes nowhere and lacks any interesting elements.

A lot of the humor is lame and includes Nyland having falling-in-love with his lawn mower, which he takes with him everywhere even when he’s inside people’s homes. One segment has him ‘mowing’ the carpet of the inspector’s office, which is kind of funny, but then it cuts to a long shot where we see no damage to the carpet, so what’s the point of doing the gag if there’s no visual payoff? The bit where Nyland turns his country home into a flying machine had potential, but the abysmal special effects ruin it.

Helen Mirren almost saves it with her excellent performance and I enjoyed David Tomlinson in his last film, who shows more energy than the rest of the cast. Sellers though seems tired and worn-out and his acting lacks the required energy. In some ways he looks quite healthy here including showing a nice tan when he’s in the Nyland role, but this actually hurts the characterization as Nyland is supposed to be old and elderly, but despite his gray hair he really doesn’t look it. Peter’s two good moments comes when he’s in the Fu role and breathing heavily as he watches Helen strip, the bit at the end where he becomes a rock star is impressive and he seems to be singing in a completely different voice. If it was dubbed then it takes away from it, but if he was using his real voice then he deserves credit as it certainly didn’t sound like any of the other accents he had ever used in his career.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Piers Haggard (Peter Sellers uncredited)

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

dead1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t say ‘cleaning woman’.

It’s the 1940’s and private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) gets a visit from Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) who wants him to investigate the mysterious death of her father, which she believes to have been murder. Rigby’s investigation turns up two lists both showing names of people who were either friends or enemies of a person named Carlotta. As Rigby continues his research he becomes menaced by a man who shoots him and steals the lists forcing Rigby to interview a wide array of different people in order to get to the truth.

In the spring of 1980 Martin got together with Carl Reiner and screenwriter George Gipe to go over his next movie project idea. He had just gotten done starring in Pennies from Heavena 1930’s period musical, and wanted to do another film from that era, a comedy that was entitled ‘Depression’. While going over the plot he mentioned using a clip from an old movie and splicing it into his film and making it a part of the story. This gave Reiner the idea of doing an entire movie centered around old movie clips ultimately leading to them using footage from 19 vintage films from Hollywood’s golden era with most of them being dramas that were meant to be taken seriously, but with Martin’s character responding to the lines mentioned by the actors in the clips in such a way that it becomes funny.

Incorporating a plot completely around old movies is certainly an inspired idea, but the result is only so-so. On the technical end you can clearly tell when an old film is spliced into the scene because it’s footage is much grainier than when it shows Martin or Ward. Having it all filmed in black-and-white helps a little but the new footage is too pristine and intentional scratches should’ve been added to make it better match the old stuff.

As for the story, well, it works for awhile, but then starts to get downright boring by the third act. There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments, but the concept wears itself out. Some have called this a one-joke movie, but I would describe it more as a joke that gets told over-and-over again until it’s predictable and redundant. Having old film clips put in during a certain part of the movie, but then focusing on other comedy angles during the rest of it would’ve worked better. Had it spliced-in only 1 or 2 other movies and with a smaller character count would’ve created less of a diluted effect as ultimately there’s just too many people to keep track of and the plot itself is too fabricated to hold much interest.

Martin is excellent and the fact that he didn’t watch any movies from the 40’s in order to prepare for the role as most other actors would’ve done, was a wise decision as he ends up creating his own style instead of coming-off like he’s imitating somebody else. Ward is good too and while she isn’t particularly funny she does make for a excellent straight-man, which is what a solid comedy needs by having a normal person play-off the other wackiness around them. Carl Reiner is engaging in a send-up of Erich Von Stroheim and it’s interesting seeing Reni Santoni appear here as he played a young Reiner 15 years earlier in the movie Enter LaughingThe characters though are flat and never evolve, which like with the other issues described above, make this movie a novelty experiment that never fully gels.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Universal

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

Movie Madness (1982)

moviemadness2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three very unfunny stories.

If you’re ever needing to show someone why drugs aren’t a good idea there’s no reason to go back to that old TV ad with an egg frying in a pan that said ‘This is your brain on drugs’ instead you could simply show them this movie. Not that it pertains to drugs, or even mentions them, but it was done by people heavily on cocaine, the top drug of choice in Hollywood at that time, who were apparently so coked-up that they thought this movie was ‘hilarious’ even though no one else that saw it thought so.

With the success of Animal House National Lampoon’s was considered the big comic venue, so much so that United Artists gave them top-dollar, a whopping $15 million, to make another feature. In response National Lampoon brought together 5 writers, all of whom had written for their humor magazine, but had no screenplay experience, to compose the movie. The idea was to create 10 short vignettes that would make fun of a different movie genre, but this was ultimately too difficult, so it got pared down to just 4, with only three of them ultimately making it to the big screen. What’s perplexing is that the production values are good (I actually liked the opening song sung by Dr. John and the opening animation), there’s even some big name stars, but the material itself is unbelievably lame to the extent that it purportedly caused a test audience in Rhode Island to tear up their theater seats to show their disgust.

The first story, which is entitled ‘Growing Yourself’ stars Peter Riegert as a suburban father/husband who packs up his wife’s (Candy Clark) bags and tells her to leave so he can ‘grow’ as a person. Though confused with the reasoning she immediately obliges, but ultimately the husband finds raising the kids and finding a new more interesting career to be far more of a challenge then he expected.

The problem with this story, like with the other two, is that the characters and their motivations are unrelatable to real everyday people. For a story to work, even as satire, there still needs to be a connection to reality and this thing is too daffy. Even on a surreal level it goes nowhere and becomes simply a glimpse to weird individuals saying and doing stupid things with no intrinsic point at to it at all.

The second segment, entitled ‘Success Wanters’, suffers the same fate. It has to do with recent college grad Dominique (Ann Dusenberry) getting a job as a stripper, which almost immediately leads to her becoming heiress to a massive fortune of a margarine company when the owner (Robert Culp), who she was fooling around with, dies. This then leads to more affairs, and more money and ultimately even a relationship with the President of the United States (Fred Willard).

Again nothing that happens here has any bearing in reality, never in the history of the world has this happened to any college grad out there, especially in only a few days time. To be funny it still needs to make sense, but like with the first story you’re left scratching your head wondering what the point of it was although Dusenberry does look fabulous naked, both topless and bottomless, making catching it for that reason almost worth it.

The third and final segment, entitled ‘Municipalians’ has rookie cop Brent (Robby Benson) paired with jaded, crabby veteran Stan (Richard Widmark) as they go out to find a bizarre serial killer (Christopher Lloyd). Supposedly this was meant as a parody of the cop buddy movies, but too silly and over-the-top to be even slightly amusing. I will admit it’s fun seeing veteran star Widmark in such an odd project and his cantankerous ways is slightly engaging, including one moment when he’s caught reading Hustler magazine, but the story structure is faulty. It might’ve gotten a few more points from me had the scene where Benson and Lloyd start singing a duet of ‘Feelings’ and then had Widmark barge in to form a trio, but since that doesn’t happen this one like the other two fails miserably. It also ends with the camera focusing on Benson struggling to get up after he’s been shot several times, which comes-off as cruel like it’s making fun of someone who’s in pain, which I found disturbing.

There was a fourth segment entitled ‘The Bomb’ that starred Kenneth Mars and Marcia Strassman and was a parody of disaster movies, but when screened United Artists’ vice president of production found this segment to be ‘of an awfulness that made the whole picture look unreleasable’. so it got taken out. However, he did also find the first three stories to be ‘good, funny segments with high commercial promise’ making you wonder if he was coked-up on the white stuff too.

Alternate Title: National Lampoon’s Goes to the Movies

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Bob Giraldi, Henry Jaglom

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video, Tubi

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Super hero drops-out.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 11, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philippe Mora

Studio: Seven Keys

Available: DVD

High Anxiety (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s afraid of heights.

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) is hired as the new resident psychiatrist at the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very, Nervous where he is to replace another Dr. who died under suspicious circumstances. While there he becomes aware of many odd things occurring making him believe that the people running the hospital, Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) and Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), have a scheme going on where they take in rich patients and pretend their conditions are worse than they really are, so that they can keep the patients hospitalized for indefinite periods and thus bilk the patient’s rich families for large sums of money. Richard, together with Victoria (Madeline Kahn) who is the daughter of another patient that is being held there against his will, become determined to expose the scheme, but his adversaries use nefarious tactics to try and stop him by taking advantage of his extreme fear of heights.

Per an interview that Mel Brooks gave with NPR in 2013 he revealed that he wrote a letter to Hitchcock in 1976 telling him that he wanted to do a parody of his movies and was interested in getting his feedback. Hitch wrote back saying that they should get together in his office to go over ideas. In fact it was Hitch’s suggestion to have the scene involving the birds pooping on Brooks. When the film was completed he got his own private screening and afterwards he sent Brooks a case of expensive French wine with the note: “A small token of my pleasure, have no anxiety about this.”

Two of my favorite moments include a Psycho parody where a bellhop (played by a young and soon-to-be famous director in his own right, Barry Levinson) who stabs Brooks with a newspaper while he’s in the shower. The afore mentioned Birds parody is good too with the bird droppings made up of mayonnaise and chopped spinach, but because a helicopter was used during the segment it scared a lot of the pigeons causing real bird do-do to get mixed in with the fake stuff.

I enjoyed the bits involving a parody of the ‘gliding camera’ a technique used in many films where a camera shot begins on the outside of a building, but then somehow ‘glides through’ a wall and goes inside a place without any barrier. Here the camera shatters the glass as it tries to ‘glide through’ the window of the hospital, but Brooks almost ruins the moment by having the characters react by looking up to where the noise occurred, but then going back to their conversation, which makes no sense. If a camera operator has just crashed through a window, most people would get up from their seats and inspect the damage, which would’ve overplayed the joke, so they should’ve just had the characters not respond to the crashing noise at all. This same issue occurs at the end where the camera operators are heard talking just before they crash through a wall, but the scene would’ve played better without the banter.

The plot, as thin and goofy as it is, has some interesting moments. I especially enjoyed the segments done inside the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco and the way it takes advantage of the glass elevators there. The scene involving actor Ron Carey blowing up a picture that he took there in order to solve a crime is cool because it goes back to the old way of developing film, which will be a good education for today’s younger viewers who are more used to digital.

The performances are first-rate with Brooks in an uncharacteristic straight part though he still gets in a few zany moments including a segment where he’s a baby who falls from his high-chair. Leachman though steals it in a brilliant send-up of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In fact it’s her contorted face with no make-up and a faint mustache that leaves a lasting impression. She has stated that she disliked doing the role, but it’s so hilarious that I wished her part had been given a wider storyline.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Bugsy Malone (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The gangsters are kids.

It’s the 1920’s and rival mobsters, who are all played by children, fight over control of a club that illegally sells liquor. Fat Sam ( John Cassisi) is the one who currently controls it, but Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) makes a play at a violent overthrow in which his men attack the club by using machine guns equipped with whipped cream that ‘splurge’ their victims. Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a penniless boxing promoter caught in the middle. He tries to help aspiring singer Blousy (Florrie Dugger) get an audition at Sam’s club, but then becomes distracted by Sam’s alluring girlfriend Tallulah (Jodie Foster) who causes Sam’s ire by flirting with Bugsy.

This odd concoction was the product of Alan Parker in his feature film directorial debut who came up with the idea while driving his kids on a weekend trip to a countryside cottage. To keep his kids entertained he started telling them a story about some prohibition era gangsters based on old gangster movies he had seen as a child. It was at one point where one of the kids brought up the idea of having gangsters be children instead of adults.

The first 15 minutes or so are quite inventive and fun. I enjoyed the freeze-frames showing each victim splattered with whip cream and the pedaled powered automobiles, but after awhile it starts to repeat the same gags over and over becoming a one-dimensional, one-joke flick.

I kept wondering where the adults where and despite this being a fantasy what exactly where the ‘rules’. Is this a type of universe where there are no adults at all and the kids remain at that age forever and if so does that ultimately then make them the ‘adults’? For me it would’ve been better had the story been book-ended with some connection to the world as we know it. Perhaps with a Wizard of Oz type structure where the film starts out, maybe even in black-and-white, with adults in the parts of the gangsters and then one of them gets hit on the head or drinks something with a drug in it and has this weird dream involving kids suddenly taking over the roles previously played by the adults. Showing the differences at how kids approached things versus how the adults do would’ve been a funny contrast instead of keeping it at the kiddie-level the whole way through, which ultimately falls flat.

The performances of the young cast are quite energetic although I could’ve done without the musical numbers. Cassisi, who in real-life ended up serving jail time of his own for money laundering, steals it with his humorous send-up of a mob boss. Baio is quite good too especially with his over-the-top Brooklyn accent, but I felt Foster got shamefully underused. If anything her role should’ve been combined with Blousy’s to make one and cutting out Florrie Dugger, who now goes by the name of Florence Garland, completely. I didn’t have anything against her per say, but she didn’t have the onscreen spark that Foster did. She also apparently disliked Baio and the scene involving her hugging him required many retakes as she didn’t want to get near him and this lack of chemistry comes through onscreen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

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

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog becomes a star.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount Pictures

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

!Three Amigos! (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Western stars travel south.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Landis

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Cookie (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter becomes getaway driver.

Dino (Peter Falk), a longtime racketeer, gets released from prison after a 13-year sentence. He meets up with his long time crony Carmine (Michael V. Gazz0) only to learn that Carmine sold off his share of the business, but now refuses to give him his entitled proceeds. Dino then plots an elaborate revenge and uses his estranged daughter Cookie (Emily Lloyd) to help him. At first the two don’t get along,but eventually forge a friendship when she proves to be quite resourceful as a getaway driver.

This movie proved to be the start of Lloyd’s career downfall. She burst onto the scene with her acclaimed performance in Wish You Were Here, which had all the critics fawning over her including Roger Ebert who called her performance “one of the great debut roles of a young actress”. With her new found fame she moved to New York at the age of 17 and immediately got the starring role in this film, which unfortunately proved to be her undoing as she showed erratic behavior on the set due to a condition that was later diagnosed as being attention deficit disorder. At one point during filming her irritated co-star Falk slapped her because she repeatedly flubbed of her lines, which caused her to then reportedly slap him.  It was behind-the-scenes stories like these that made studios reluctant to hire her and costing her to miss out on a lot of big roles.

While I’ll commend her ability to put on a very effective Brooklyn accent where you can’t even hear a hint of her native British one I still felt overall her performance here is quite weak and one of the main reasons that the film fails. Her facial expressions are too one-note and she shows an aloof detachment in all of her scenes almost like she really doesn’t want to be there. It’s evident onscreen that she and Falk didn’t care for each other making the bonding that their two characters have come-off as forced and insincere. I didn’t know why her character was even needed, I presume it was done to attract the all-important teen demographic, but she’s not funny and there’s long stretches where she doesn’t even appear. Her attire looks too much like the clothing style worn by Molly Ringwald during the 80’s and while that may have been the fashion it’s still good to have a character come up with a clothing style that is unique to them, so she doesn’t end up looking like just a leftover cast member from a John Hughes’ movie.

The supporting cast are what make this movie funny and had the story centered around them it could’ve been special. Gazzo is great as the mob boss who is intimidating one minute and then frightened and contrite the next. Dianne Weist, is quite funny too, particularly her extended crying bouts, as Falk’s mistress and Brenda Vaccaro steals a few scenes as his dog groomer wife. You can also spot Joy Behar in a brief bit as well as Jerry Lewis although his part is quite colorless and I’m surprised he even took it.

The script by Nora Ephron and Alice Arden relies too much on Mafia cliches while failing to add a unique or interesting spin to it. There’s also too many scenes, three of them to be exact, involving the explosion of a limo. One time is okay, but it saps away the surprise/shock value when it keeps happening and much like the movie itself fizzles out with a whimper.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Asian detective solves case.

Police Chief Baxter (Brian Kieth) summons the retired Charlie Chan (Peter Ustinov) back to duty in order to help him solve a series of bizarre murders. Chan is also reluctantly assisted by his inept grandson Lee Chan Jr. (Richard Hatch) who shows no ability at solving anything and only causes chaos where ever he goes. As the case unfold Chan is at first convinced that his old nemesis Dragon Lady (Angie Dickinson) is the culprit, but he slowly turns his suspicions onto someone else who no one else suspects.

This is a perfect example of a movie that could never be made today as it features a white actor playing the part of an Asian American although the film did meet with strong resistance even back then. Many Chinese Americans protested by picketing locations were it was being shot and then later demonstrated at theaters that played it. Their complaints hinged around the Chan character being a racist stereotype particularly his ‘Chop-Suey pidgin English and fortune cookie-like proverbs’ all of which were very valid points.

What’s even worse is that the Chan character is not funny at all and the film would’ve been better had he not been in it. Ustinov acts like he’s just walking through the role with no energy or pizzazz and his singing over the opening credits, which I guess is meant to be intentionally bad in an effort to be ‘funny’, comes off as pathetically lame instead and could be enough to make most people want to turn off the film before it’s barely begun. Keith as the exasperated chief is far funnier and enlivens every scene he is in to the point that he should’ve been made the star.

Hatch as the doofus grandson is almost as bad as Ustinov, but even more annoying as he creates all sorts of disasters were ever he goes, but is completely oblivious to the pain and destruction that he causes others, which makes him come-off to being too stupid to be even remotely believable. On the rare occasions when he does realize that his blundering has caused issues to others like when he inadvertently knocks a bunch of TV reporters into a lake, he makes no attempt to help them out of the water, or even apologize for what he did, making him seem deserving of a big punch in his otherwise blank-eyed face. I was also confused as to why, if he’s Chan’s grandson, he wasn’t Asian.

The female actors perform better here. I enjoyed Lee Grant’s rare foray into comedy. Her acting skills are more tuned to drama, but the scenes where she talks to her dead husband’s ashes inside an urn are pretty good. Rachel Roberts, in her last theatrical film before her untimely and tragic death, is diverting as a super paranoid maid. Michelle Pfeiffer is quite engaging too as Hatch’s fiance. Her character is just as doopey as his, but she has enough acting skill to make it interesting and far outshines him, despite having less screen time.

The comedy is flat and has no focus to it as it alternates between slapstick and parody while haphazardly throwing in all sorts of uninspired gags that have little or nothing to do with the main plot and that includes a drawn out car chase in the middle that isn’t funny at all. It also features an ending similar to the one in Blazing Saddles where it becomes a-movie-within-a-movie as the characters run into a theater where a Charlie Chan movie is playing. However, this scene isn’t too well thought-out as it features Ustinov playing Chan on the black-and-white film that the theatergoers are watching, which makes no sense. For one thing the film being shown is an older one, so Chan should look younger on it, but he doesn’t. Also, why would Chan be playing himself in a movie? Isn’t he supposed to be just a detective, or are we to assume he’s also an actor starring in films when he’s not out solving cases? It would’ve been more amusing had Chan walked into the theater and saw another actor playing him on the screen and then started bitching about how he wasn’t doing it right.

Spoiler Alert!

There is one really inspired moment that is so cute it almost makes sitting through the rest of it worth it. I features Pfeiffer and Hatch tied up and being held hostage by a vicious dog who is tied to a rope with a candle flame burning throw it, which will then release the hound to attack the couple. In an effort to stop the flame from burning through they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to the dog, which then gets the dog to blow-out the flame like a person would blow out candles on a birthday cake.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Release: February 4, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD, Blu-ray