Tag Archives: Chevy Chase

Deal of the Century (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making money selling weapons.

Eddie (Chevy Chase) is a American arms dealer selling weapons to both the rebels and military dictator of a small South American country. While there he meets Harold (Wallace Shawn) who works for a large contractor known as Luckup. Their weaponry is much more sophisticated and cutting edge so after Harold kills himself Eddie takes over the deal and successfully wins a big contract, but upon returning to the states he finds that the deal fell through, which forces him to return to the small country along with Harold’s widow Catherine (Sigourney Weaver) and his partner Ray  (Gregory Hines) to see if they can make another pitch.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Edelman and makes some really good satirical points about how the arms race being driven more by corporate greed, which only helps to create wars instead of preventing them. Unfortunately the film’s tone is too muddled and goes haphazardly from lighthearted fare to dark humor while throwing in graphic violence that is jarring. There’s also a surprising number of scenes where the three main characters don’t appear in it at all.

Chase can be appealing if given the right material but his cynical smart-ass sense of humor doesn’t exactly make him lovable. Here his character is so consumed with making a deal that he becomes no different than the bad guys and someone the viewer doesn’t connect with or care for. The only positive thing about his character is that he gets shot in the foot early on and then unlike most other movies where the healing power gets sped up he instead spends the rest of the film in a cast, which is more realistic. The scene where he gets shot in the foot a second time and blood spews out of the cast until Sigourney stops it up with a cork is the film’s best moment.

Hines on the other hand is quite likable and his convergence to Christianity is funny and should’ve been played-up more. The scene where he gets into a confrontation with a Latino couple after a car accident is amusing, but having him suddenly go rogue at the end makes little sense and is kind of stupid.

Weaver, who doesn’t have any significant presence until almost 45 minutes in, is wasted and there’s no way that anyone as beautiful as her would marry a chump like Wallace Shawn, which makes the casting here quite nebulous. Vince Edwards, famous for starring in the 60’s medical drama ‘Ben Casey’, gets a surprisingly large role as a Luckup executive and I can only guess that this was because of his longtime friendship with director William Friedkin as otherwise by the 80’s he was way past his prime and largely forgotten.

There are some humorous bits here and there, but overall the pacing is poor and quite jumbled. Friedkin, better known for his dark dramas and horror films, appears to be out of his league and when compared to other Hollywood comedies this thing lacks finesse. The special effects are also really tacky, which ultimately sends this to a schlock level and becomes an embarrassment to all those who were involved.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, YouTube

National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

european vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Griswolds tour Europe.

After winning a trip to Europe Clark (Chevy Chase) and his family set out to see the sights. First they go to London and France and then Germany only to end up in Italy where they get involved with a couple of thieves. Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) also becomes an international porn star when stolen video of her singing naked in the shower gets shown at the local adult theaters.

Although John Hughes is credited as the co-writer he had nothing to do with the script and the majority of blame for this mess goes to Robert Klane. Klane burst onto the scene during the early ‘70’s with the brilliant Where’s Poppa that deserves to go down into the annals of all-time original comedy, but his output since then has proved to be mediocre and the uninspired humor here is no exception. The comedy in the first installment was solely focused on all the amusing elements that can occur when a family takes a trip, but here gags of any kind get thrown in with much of them being crude and pointless.

The performers who play Rusty and Audrey are poor replacements to the ones in the first film. Anthony Michael Hall was asked to reprise his role, but decided to commit to doing Weird Science instead. After he bowed out it was decided to then cast a new person in the Audrey role as well, but the presence of the teens here is not as fun. In the first film they were portrayed as being the sensible ones, which made for an amusing contrast to the more child-like Clark, but here they are straddled with the generic issues of the everyday teen, which isn’t funny or interesting and includes Audrey dealing with an eating disorder and having a nightmare where she stuffs her face full of junk food, which is gross.

There is also a potpourri of recognizable character actors who appear briefly in bit parts and include : Eric Idle, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa and Victor Lanoux all of whom get wasted to the point where I was surprised they even agreed to appear unless they just really needed the money. The side-story dealing with the Griwolds and some thieves is dumb and looks to have been written in simply to pad the running time.

Chase himself has gone on record to state that he dislikes this film and it’s easy to see why. The on-location shooting is nice, but everything else falls horribly flat. In fact the only funny gag in the whole thing is when Clark gets trapped in a London roundabout and is unable to make a left turn, which forces him to drive in circles for hours, which apparently isn’t such an uncommon occurrence.

european vacation 2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Amy Heckerling

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going on a trip.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to drive his family of four from Chicago to California in order to visit the world famous amusement park of Wally World. Sure they could’ve flown, but he feels that getting there is ‘half the fun’, so they pack up their station wagon while losing their luggage along the way, running out of money, getting stranded in the desert and forced to take along the crabby Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) who makes everyone miserable.

The film is loaded with laugh-out-loud gags particularly at the beginning. I enjoyed the snapshots of touristy places that get shown over the opening credits as they look exactly like homemade pics stripped directly from somebody’s family album. Clark’s attempts to recreate their proposed trip on the computer only to have his animated station wagon eaten up by a Pacman-like monster is hilarious and imaginative. The scene showing him trying to get back into his old car after its been crushed, or falling asleep at the wheel and driving haphazardly off the road only to end up miraculously at a hotel are also quite good.

The screenplay was written by John Hughes and based on a story he wrote for the September 1979 issue of National Lampoon’s magazine. The plot nicely tackles all the problems that can occur on a typical family outing. Everything from having to visit boring in-laws to squabbling kids in the backseat get comically examined and most likely will remind everyone of their own family trips that started out fun, but turned into a nightmare.

I enjoyed seeing comic legends Eddie Bracken and Imogene Coca cast in supporting roles as well as other recognizable stars popping up for brief bits. This is also the best casting of Rusty and Audrey and watching the kids being the sensible ones while the Dad is more child-like is fun. However, their lack of appreciation for the song ‘Mockingbird’, which Chase and Beverly D’Angelo do an admirable rendition of, is outrageous even for teens and should’ve been enough to have them thrown into Lake Michigan immediately!

The script though begins to go off its hinges with the running joke involving supermodel Christie Brinkley. She plays a hot babe who seems for some strange reason to be attracted to middle-age schmuck Clark. The script was originally written to have this as Rusty’s sexual fantasy, which might’ve worked better, but as it is here it makes no sense.  The character drives so fast in her sporty red convertible that she should remain miles ahead of them and yet she is constantly repassing them almost like she’s a stalker and the odds that she would’ve coincidently been staying at the same hotel as them, out of the thousands that are out there, are astronomically slim. It all might’ve been saved, at least for the male viewers, had she gone nude, which was the original intent, but she refused. In either case it’s a boring bit that is not funny, or believable, or for that matter even sexy.

Spoiler Alert!

I also found the ending to be a letdown. The original one had Clark purchasing a BB gun and using it to invade the home owned by Wally (Eddie Bracken) after they find that his amusement park has been temporarily shut down and then forcing him and his associates to sing some songs before the SWAT team closes in. However, this ending rated poorly with test audiences so it was changed to where Clark and the family invade the park itself and force a security guard, amusingly played by John Candy, to take them on the rides while threatening him with the same type of BB gun.

Personally I disliked both endings because they are over-the-top and make little sense. There is no way that an amusement park would completely shut down for 2-weeks to make repairs especially in the middle of summer, which it is at the height of tourist season and risks too much of a loss of revenue. Certain individual rides may get shut down from time-to-time, but not the whole place. There is also never any explanation as to who is running the rides from the ground that the Griswolds and the security guard go on. Some may argue that it might be done by the black security guard, which is played by actor Frank McRae, but this is never explicitly shown or implied, so it therefore cannot be automatically assumed.

It also takes away too much from the film’s overall theme, which was making fun of less than ideal situations that occur on a lot of family vacations. Yes they do get exaggerated for comical purposes, but there was still a grain of truth to it while the ending instead borders on the surreal.

A better version would’ve been to have the family go to the park and have it open for business as expected, but then get caught up in a lot of crowds, long lines, overly priced rides and roller coasters that made them physically sick, which it did to the cast in real-life anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite some of the script’s weaknesses this is still the funniest installment to the Griswold adventures and far better than its 4 sequels or the 2015 reboot. I also enjoyed the on-location shooting as well as the music by Lindsey Buckingham. His song ‘Holiday Road’, which gets played during the film’s opening, has become the mainstay to the franchise even though I found ‘Dancing Across the U.S.A’ that gets played over the closing credits to be better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Fletch Lives (1989)

fletch lives

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter inherits a mansion.

Fletch (Chevy Chase) who writes for a Los Angeles newspaper under the byline of Jane Doe, receives to his surprise an inheritance of an old southern mansion. He immediately travels to the place while quitting his job in the process. The building is in bad shape, but he finds that he is receiving a generous offer to sell it, which makes him curious. Instead of taking the offer he does some research and finds that the property is a dumping ground for dangerous chemicals and that people are more than happy to murder him and others in order to keep them quiet about it.

The first film was based on a novel by George Macdonald, but this story was written directly for the big screen and the mystery is uninspired and obvious. Chase’s detached persona and acerbic wit gets put to a real test here. One scene has him discovering that the woman who he has just spent the night with is now dead, but he shows no shocked reaction at all making him seem almost inhuman. He then decides to smart-off to the police when they arrive to investigate even though any sane/half-way intelligent person would realize that would just get them into even more trouble, which it justifiably does here.

The character also has an unrealistically massive-sized ego especially in regards to his job and the arrogant way that he deals with his boss (Richard Libertini) acting almost like he is above the rules and can come and go whenever he pleases without having to answer to anyone. Now this behavior to some extent could be more justified if he was writing under his own name and had a large fan following, but to the readers he is just ‘Jane Doe’ and for all they know he is a woman instead of a man. In either case he could easily be replaced by another reporter writing under the same byline and no one would notice or care, which makes his entitled attitude completely out-of-line and one that should have gotten him fired long ago.

There is also no explanation to what happened to the Gail character, which was played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson. The first film ended with the two of them supposedly falling-in-love, but in this film she has completely disappeared. Now the first installment came out 4 years earlier and a lot of relationships don’t last that long, so it’s possible that they simply broke-up and moved-on, which is fine. However, in this movie her character gets replaced by one who looks just like her (Julianne Phillips) and she falls-in-love with Fletch in much the same way making the plotline seem highly formulaic and like they are simply replacing one blue-eyed, blonde bimbo with another.

The humor is generic and juvenile although I’m ashamed to say I did find myself chuckling at some of it. The best moment is a take-off on The Song of the South that comes complete with animation and by far the film’s one and only inspired moment.

The action sequences are flat. In the first film there was an exciting car chase, which was passable, but here we get treated to a motorcycle chase that goes completely off the believability meter by having Fletch do stunts that no one with limited driving experience would try nor survive.

The supporting cast is wasted especially Hal Holbrook in a part that is completely beneath his talents. However, I did get a kick out of R. Lee Ermey. He gained a major cult following from his performance as a tough sergeant in Full Metal Jacket and gets cast here as a TV-evangelist, which I found interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Fletch (1985)

fletch 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter has many disguises.

Irwin ‘Fletch’ Fletcher (Chevy Chase) works as a newspaper reporter writing articles under the byline of Jane Doe. While working on a story involving drug dealing at a nearby California beach he gets approached by Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson) who offers him a large sum of money to kill him. It seems that Mr. Stanwyck has been diagnosed with cancer and has only a short time to live. He wants Fletch to ‘put him out of his misery’ by entering his home at a certain day and time and offing him while making it look like it was just a random robbery gone bad. Initially Fletch agrees to do it, but then begins to do some research on Mr. Stanwyck and finds things just don’t add up.

Out of all the characters that Chase has played this one best suits his talents and personality. His deadpan delivery has always been his major selling point and this part takes full advantage of it while accentuating his smart-ass persona and minimizes the silly pratfalls, which were never funny anyways. The first half clicks nicely and it’s great to have a main character whose personal life is a realistic struggle as he lives alone in a depleted looking apartment complex and bitterly avoiding a divorce lawyer (George Wyner) representing his wife who cheated on him.

The plot is genuinely intriguing and had me hooked. Unfortunately the story takes on too much as it also continues to incorporate elements of the drug dealing at the beach story, which makes things too convoluted especially since the murder-for-hire scheme gets complex enough. The overblown idea to somehow tie both story threads together at the end is a misfire and an overreach. The ultimate explanation for why Stanwyck wanted Fletch to kill him is really lame and a big letdown.

The film is also too long and the humor loses its edge as it progresses. The idea that this reporter would so cleverly be able to infiltrate hospitals and businesses in order to get the information that he wanted is hard to believe and it would have come off better had his profession been a private investigator instead. Chases’s insubordinate behavior towards his boss (Richard Libertini) including at one point even giving him the one-finger-salute is pretty outrageous and would most assuredly get anyone else in the same circumstance fired and deservedly so. I was also unhappy with the portrayal of the cops as they are all shown to be corrupt, abusive and vulgar. Yes I realize there are bad cops out there, but there are also a lot of good ones too and this film makes no attempt to balance that.

Chase gets featured in every scene, so if you are not exactly a fan of his your tolerance will certainly be tested. The film does feature a plethora of familiar faces in minor roles many of whom are wasted although I did enjoy Geena Davis as Fletch’s faithful assistant.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 31, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Universal

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

Modern Problems (1981)

modern problems

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chevy acquires telekinetic powers.

Being dumped by his girlfriend (Patti D’Arbanville) and working a stressful job as an air traffic controller Max (Chevy Chase) finds himself falling into a deep depression. Then one night while following a truck home that is carrying nuclear waste he and his car get sloshed with a greenish liquid that spews out the back end of the truck’s tank. Soon afterwards he realizes that he can make objects move and uses this new found ability to try and win his girlfriend back while getting revenge on her new boyfriend (Mitch Kreindel).

The film is written and directed by Ken Shapiro who earlier teamed up with Chase to do The Grove Tube and like with that one the story is widely unfocused throwing in gags that have nothing to do with the central theme. It takes too long for Max to acquire his special powers and when he does it doesn’t go far enough with it wasting a potentially creative idea on what turns out to be just another comedy dealing with modern day relationships. The movie is horribly dated with a bit having Chase sniff up some white ‘demon dust’ in a not so subtle take on cocaine that at a time when free basing was still considered trendy might’ve been considered ‘cool’ and ‘hilarious’ by its intended audience. The opening segment is insulting to actual air traffic controllers as it makes them all look like they’re lazy and incompetent and the silly cartoon-like sounds added to the special effects gives the whole thing a very kiddie-like feel.

The logic of this thing is crazy as well. I realize being exposed to nuclear waste can bring cancer, birth defects and a wide assortment of other ailments, but nowhere have I read that it can cause telekinesis making the whole premise dumb and dubious from the start. The idea of having all these amazing powers, but only using them sparingly while moping around hoping somehow to get back into his girlfriend’s favor seems quite limiting as most people with his abilities would have much broader ambitions like saving the world or even conquering it for that matter. Although politically incorrect there could’ve been a wide array of things that he could’ve done to ‘win his girlfriend back’ like suspending her in mid-air until she agrees to see him exclusively. Also, when he notices that he is glowing green and has spots all over his face when looking into a mirror you would think he would immediately run to the nearest doctor, but doesn’t and when he finally does expose his powers to everybody else by levitating the Dabney Coleman character the other people in the room respond with a ho-hum attitude instead of screaming and running away like a normal person would.

Chase’s deadpan talents get wasted here and during the second half he becomes almost comatose during a lame parody of The Exorcist. Dabney Coleman gets equally wasted as he speaks in a weird accent while playing his trademark egotistical character that for some reason isn’t as engaging as it usually is. You also get to see a shot of his bare ass, which to me wasn’t a good thing, but there is a thread on IMDB with people stating in all seriousness that it is one of the ‘best looking asses ever’, ‘pure perfection’ and ‘the greatest moment in cinema history’, so I guess to each his own.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Shapiro

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Christmas Vacation (1989)

christmas vacation 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Christmas at the Griswold’s.

It’s the season to be merry and to celebrate Clark (Chevy Chase) gets a tree that is too big for their house and his hopes of installing a backyard pool are dashed when his holiday bonus check doesn’t arrive. Meanwhile their home gets crammed with in-laws including his hillbilly cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) who never ceases to be obnoxious and crude.

I first saw this movie upon its release and didn’t much care for it, but upon second viewing I found it a bit more appealing. The humor isn’t exactly sophisticated or original, but manages to be amiable enough to be entertaining. Some of my favorite moments were just the small things like the way Clark angrily kicks the toy Santa in his front yard when he can’t get his outdoor Christmas lights to work or even the goofy reindeer glasses that Clark and Eddie drink eggnog out of. Clark’s innuendo filled stammering when aroused by a beautiful young saleslady is nothing new, but always funny especially with the way Chase does it. The running dialogue is full of amusing lines and good enough to spring up Quote-a-long film showings of this picture at many chain theaters including the Alamo Drafthouse Theater here in Texas.

Even though it has acquired a fervent cult following and been judged a ‘classic’ by some it still has its fair share of issues. For one thing they had too many in-laws over to fit into that mid-sized house and I wondered where they all slept and showing Rusty their teenage son sleeping in the same bed with his teenage sister seemed to border on the perverse. The film also has a frustrating tendency to not follow through with all of its gags including the part where Clark falls through the floorboards of his attic and into the top bunk bed of son’s bedroom below, which I’m sure would’ve caused a lot of issues, but we’re never shown it. The virtually plotless script by John Hughes, which relies solely on rapid-fire gags becomes a bit derivative and tedious by the final half-hour and is saved only by a funny squirrel attack as well as an S.W.A.T. team ambush. I also felt a bit uncomfortable laughing at a cat getting electrocuted, which the studio was going to cut, but then left in when it proved popular with test audiences

Young Juliette Lewis is cute and my favorite of the rotating Audrey’s. Beverly D’Angelo is the hottest MILF out there and I was a little shocked at the way she seems to grab Chase directly on his crotch during the S.W.A.T scene. I liked the veteran cast that made up the grandparents, but outside a few cryptic lines by E.G. Marshall they are essentially wasted especially Doris Roberts and Diane Ladd who play the two grandmothers and don’t have more than a few lines between them. Quaid is a scene stealer, but he gets a bit crude in spots. It’s fun seeing Mae Questal best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in her final film role as a daffy, elderly aunt and I also enjoyed Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Griswold’s neighbors. They are portrayed as being this annoyingly pretentious, trendy yuppie couple, but the truth is I started to sympathize with them as their house continually gets damaged by Clark’s mishaps and I would have ended up being even more outraged and confrontational than they were had I been in their spot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeremiah Chechik

Studio: Warner Brothers

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