By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: CIA negotiates with aliens.
Insurance agent Bob Wilson (John Ritter) gets reluctantly recruited into becoming a CIA agent by another agent named Nick (James Belushi). Nick needs Bob because he looks very similar to an agent named Pillbox (Ritter) who was killed in the line of duty while going through a practice run of delivering a glass of water to some outer space aliens. The aliens had agreed to help the human race when the humans accidentally spilled a deadly chemical into the ocean that’s expected to destroy all life on earth in 5 years. The aliens give the earthlings two choices either the package that will help them clean up the toxic spill, or the other package, which is a deadly weapon that will destroy the planet. The only thing the aliens want in return is a glass of water delivered directly to them by Pillbox, but agents from other countries as well as rogue CIA members don’t want this deal to go through as they’d rather get their hands on the deadly weapon, so they kill Pillbox and now it’s up to Bob to make the water/package trade-off in Pillbox’s place, but Bob thinks Nick is crazy and doesn’t believe the story he’s telling him. Bob is also very timid and hates confrontations, so it’s up to Nick to give him the needed confidence while also stopping him from running away, which he does routinely.
Extremely odd mix of weird humor and sci-fi works for the first half before taking a completely downward spiral by the third. The script was written by Dennis Feldman, who spent years as a still photographer before deciding to try his hand at script writing after his brother Randy sold a couple of his own scripts that were made into movies. Dennis’ first one was Just One of the Guys and then his second was Golden Child, which sold for $330,000 and he was also given the opportunity to direct, but he declined the directing option feeling he wasn’t ready only to regret it when the director who ultimate was hired, Michael Ritchie, changed his story in ways he didn’t like. When the opportunity to direct came again he made sure to choose it.
Much like an indie flick the quirkiness is strong, but engaging. The humor is centered on the way it twists the logic around, so nothing works the way you’d expect while also playfully poking fun at tropes used in other spy genre movies. Ritter is terrific playing against type. Usually he’s the center of the comedy, but here he responds to the zaniness around him with perpetually nervous, shocked expressions. Belushi, with his glib responses and stoic nature where no matter how dire the situation he remains completely calm and collected, is funny as well and the two make a unique pair.
Unfortunately during the second half the chemistry gets ruined when Ritter’s character has this extreme arch where he goes from timid to overly confident. His confident side isn’t as funny and the way he’s able to beat-up anybody with just one punch gets highly exaggerated. I was okay with it occurring once or twice, but at some point his brazenness should catch-up with him. The movie acts like confidence is all you need to find success, but it can also backfire by putting one in situations that gets them way over-their-heads and for balance the story should’ve had this ultimately occur. You’d also think Ritter’s hand would be hurting, or even broken with the way he is constantly punching everybody. Belushi’s diversion into dating a BDSM queen bogs the pace down and takes away from the main action. The wrap-up offers no pay-off and the film despite its bright start fizzles.
Like with most 80’s movies it’s always fun seeing how things have changed as well as stayed the same. Humor-wise there’s a moment where at the time it was considered innocuous, but by today’s standards would be deemed offensive. It occurs when Belushi takes Ritter home to meet his parents where it’s revealed that his father (played by Dyanne Thorne of Ilsa movie fame) has had an operation to become a woman. This is spun as being ‘comically freakish’, but in today’s gender fluid culture would be portrayed differently. The element that remains the same is the portrayal of Russia, which at the time was considered the enemy and rival of the US and now even after the fall of communism and the supposed ending of the cold war, it’s still the same arch rival.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: September 25, 1987
Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes
Director: Dennis Feldman
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Blu-ray
Posted in 80's Movies, Buddy Movies, Quirky, Sci-Fi, Spy/Espionage
Tagged Dennis Feldman, Dyanne Thorne, Entertainment, James Belushi, John Ritter, Movies, Review
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: He’s not a spy.
Cooper (Dabney Coleman) wants to remove Ross (Charles Durning) from his position as director of the CIA so he can occupy it himself. To do this he tries to make it appear that Ross is corrupt and so as a defensive strategy Ross comes up with a scheme of his own. Since he knows that Cooper has his place bugged he has a mock conversation with Brown (Edward Herrmann) telling him that there’s a spy with important information and which he should meet at the airport in order to retrieve. However, there really is no spy it’s all just made up, so that Cooper and his entourage will waste time following around the wrong person, which they do in the case of Richard (Tom Hanks) a man spotted wearing only one red shoe and who now finds his life turned upside down for no apparent reason.
This is a remake of the French classic The Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe and surprisingly it manages to stay very close to the original. To some extent it becomes almost a shot-for-shot retelling with very little that gets changed. Most American films have a much broader sense of humor than European ones and so I was a bit amazed how subtle the comedy stays, but this could also explain why this did so poorly at the box office.
For me this biggest transgression is that this version loses the satirical edge that was so apparent and funny in the first one. The CIA agents aren’t funny at all and don’t come off like real spies just a bunch of incompetent buffoons. None of them have any discernable personalities and it somehow manages to make even Dabney Coleman seem boring and I was really surprised that he even took the part.
Hanks is equally dull and not half as funny as Pierre Richard who played the same part in the original. Richard was of a goofy eccentric while Hanks’ character is a blah ordinary guy who plays off the comedy instead of being a part of it. I also didn’t like that he eventually becomes aware of what is going as I thought it was more amusing that the character remains permanently oblivious to it all like in the French film.
The one improvement that I did like was the presence of Lori Singer as the female agent who is very attractive and has a low, low cut dress that I really digged. However, in the original the female spy, which was played by Mireille Darc, didn’t fall-in-love with the main character until after she got to know him while here Singer appears to be attracted to Hanks right from the beginning for no reason.
There are indeed a few funny moments particularly Hanks visit to his dentist and the scene where he must flush his toilet several times in order to get the water to come out of his sink faucet. Jim Belushi gets a few laughs as his friend who thinks he’s seeing things that really aren’t there, but overall the original is still superior although by not as wide of a margin as with most other American remakes. I was also frustrated that there is never any explanation for why the Hanks character is wearing only one red shoe. In the French film it at least gets explained, but here they don’t even do that.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: July 19, 1985
Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes
Director: Stan Dragoti
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube
Posted in 80's Movies, Comedy, Movies with Nudity, Remakes, Spy/Espionage
Tagged Dabney Coleman, Entertainment, James Belushi, Lori Singer, Movies, Pierre Richard, Review, Tom Hanks
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Losers go road-trippin’
Homer (James Belushi) is a mentally challenged man suffering brain damage from being hit in the head by a baseball when he was a kid. He decides to go on a road trip to visit his sick father, but along the way he gets robbed and has to sleep in an abandoned car. It is there that he meets Eddie (Whoopi Goldberg) an embittered, volatile women who is supposedly suffering from a brain tumor. The two trek off in her car to Oregon to meet up with Homer’s parents and also try to track down the men who robbed him.
I was impressed with the acting range shown here by Goldberg. Usually she is so likable, but here she is quite edgy and does it in an effective way. I applaud her attempts to work outside of her comfort zone although her fits of anger make the viewer uncomfortable and her crying does not sound authentic.
Belushi is good in atypical role and for the most part he is the best thing about the movie. His lines are consistently amusing, but the film walks an uncomfortable line between making him a sympathetic character to also making fun of him. Despite the fact that these two already worked together in Jumpin’ Jack Flash the chemistry between them doesn’t work.
The supporting cast is interesting in cameo roles. Casting 70-year-old 200 pound Ernestine McClendon as a prostitute gets points simply for its novelty, but seeing her in her grossly oversized panties is a bit much. Karen Black as her pimp has such a small, meaningless role that I was surprised that she even took it. Nancy Parsons has an interesting part as a cold and aloof woman who becomes sympathetic, which is a rarity for her. Director John Waters appears briefly as a robber and I kind of got a kick out of Don Hanmer as a very nervous cashier. Belushi’s real-life second wife Marjorie Bransfield can be spotted in the character of Betsy and this also marked the final film appearance for both Fritz Feld and Anne Ramsey.
The film features a wide-array of musical styles, which works against it. I liked Richie Havens rendition of ‘Home’, which had the nice laid-back beat and folk tinged sound that you expect for a road movie. Some of the more hard rock, heavy metal stuff became too loud and obnoxious and takes the viewer out of the picture instead of wrapping them in.
I liked the scenery and there are a few interesting moments, but trying to mix the surreal with the gritty is misguided. The comical bits get drowned out by the scenes of violence and a very maudlin theme. The result is an uneven film that pales in comparison to the classic road movies.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: December 1, 1989
Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes
Director: Andrei Konchalovskiy
Studio: Skouras Pictures
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu
Posted in 80's Movies, Black Comedy, Buddy Movies, Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies, Road Movies
Tagged Entertainment, Ernestine McClendon, James Belushi, Karen Black, Movies, Nancy Parsons, Review, Richie Havens, Whoopi Goldberg