Tag Archives: Martin Mull

Take This Job and Shove It (1981)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Modernizing a beer factory.

Frank (Robert Hays) is hired by a conglomerate called The Ellison Group to find ways to improve a beer factory that they own and get it in the black. Since Frank is originally from the small town where the factory is located he excitedly takes-on the task, but soon finds himself at odds with many of the workers, some of whom he was friends with in highs school, but who now look at him as a threat to their jobs. While the ideas that he implements are at first resisted the situation in the factory improves and the place begins turning a profit. Unfortunately it becomes such a success that The Ellison Group decides to sell it to a man with a background in the oil business, who doesn’t know the first thing about beer production, which gets everyone in the factory to rebel from the acquisition in very physical ways when the new owner and his cronies arrive for a visit.

The movie was filmed at an actual beer factory, The Dubuque Star Brewery, in Dubuque, Iowa, that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and although no longer functioning as a brewery it still stands today. The history of the place is similar to the movie as it was bought by Joseph Pickett in 1971 who implemented a massive renovation when he found that it was still using equipment from the 1930’s. The story itself was inspired by the hit country song that sat on top of the country charts for 2-weeks and was performed by Johnny Paycheck and written by David Allan Coe, both of whom appear in the movie.

The production has some nice on-location shooting of not only Iowa, but also the Twin Cities and I really dug the basketball court in the mansion owned by Eddie Albert’s character. The working class issues and the gritty nature of their jobs and lifestyles is basically on-target, but the movie bills itself as a comedy, and the trailer makes it seem almost like it’s going to be a farce, but in reality it’s more of drama with very little action until the end. There’s not much that’s funny either and the thin, predictable premise gets stretched-out longer than it should ultimately making it boring and a strain to sit through.

The main defect is the Robert Hays character. While he performs the part well he’s not enough of a jerk, or nemesis and thus the confrontational drama is missing. Having him from the area originally was a mistake as he seems too different from everyone else around him and creating him as an outsider from the big city that had little to no regard for the people working under him would’ve created the necessary fireworks that this otherwise benign film lacks. It also would’ve made a more interesting character arch where he’d go from arrogant, city-slicker to a humble man who would learn to appreciate those that he initially looked down on instead of having him already a semi-part of the group to begin with. It also hopelessly wastes the talents of Barbra Hershey, who gets cast as an idealistic, pro-labor lady, a perfect part for her, and I was expecting the two to quarrel over their contrasting viewpoints, but it never gels and she’s seen far too little.

The script also suffers from logic loopholes and continuity errors. While a hotel room door may seem like a minor thing to quibble about it became a big deal for me. The scenario starts out funny enough, possibly the only amusing bit in the movie, with Fran Ryan playing the owner of the hotel touring him around the cramped, rundown room and acting like it’s a more ritzy place than it really is. Later though while Hays is asleep, his buddies from the factory rip the door off its hinges by attaching a chain to it that’s connected to a pick-up truck, but there’s no scene showing, or explaining, how the door ends up getting reattached. The door is also apparently always unlocked as both Hershey and the Martin Mull character walk into the room from the outside unheeded, but most if not all hotel room doors automatically lock when they’re closed, so why doesn’t this one? In the case of Martin Mull he walks in on Hays while he’s still asleep, but you’d think Hays definitely would’ve locked the door from the inside and put the security chain on it before going to bed, so again how is Mull able to just open it? He doesn’t even bother to knock, which is absurd too since he’s never been to that hotel before, so how would he even know for sure he had the right room and wasn’t walking in on a stranger?

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gus Trikonis

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray-R

Clue (1985)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Inspired by board game.

Six individuals (Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan, Lesley Ann Warren, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd) are invited to an isolated New England mansion at the behest of Wadsworth (Tim Curry) the butler to the mansion’s owner. It seems that these six people have been blackmailed by Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) and now Wadsworth, who is employed by Boddy, has decided it’s time to let them off the hook, but not before Boddy himself turns up dead having been murdered by one of the guests. As they try to unravel the mystery more homicides occur forcing the rest to find the killer before he/she finds them.

Initially this film, which is based on the famous Parker Brothers board game and currently being remade, is okay entertainment. The fast paced dialogue has a few good lines and the mystery element lends for some mild intrigue. The performances are also spot-on with each actor perfectly cast for their part. I especially liked Eileen Brennan as the nervous Mrs. Peacock as well as Warren as the sarcastic and snarky Miss Scarlet.

Unfortunately after an agreeable first 40 minutes it finally, like with its many victims, goes down with a thud. The concept just isn’t solid enough for feature length material and the idea of trying to stretch it out by adding more victims only convolutes things and makes an already ridiculous premise even more so. Having Curry spend the final part going back through all the things that had occurred before in an effort to ‘solve’ the case while rushing the rest of the cast from one part of the mansion to the other as he explains it is not amusing, but instead dizzying, redundant and pointless. What may have seemed initially like a novel idea instead becomes just another excursion into silliness and way too similar to Neil Simon’s Murder by Death, which came out in the ‘70’s and also starred Brennan.

True mystery buffs will be the most disappointed as the emphasis is completely on comedy and not in creating any type of elaborate whodunit for the viewer to figure out. The plot itself contains no real ‘clues’ and everything that occurs during the course of the film has nothing to do with who ultimately ends up being the culprit.

The film’s only real unique element is that it featured three different endings with different ones shown at various theaters. The DVD features all three with option to choose one at random. However, the first two are lame and only the third one, which features everyone as the murderer, is the only one that is halfway decent and should’ve been the sole one used.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes (Includes all three endings)

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Lynn

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

FM (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: No static at all!

Q-SKY is the number one radio station in Los Angeles and this is mainly due to program director Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) who has lined up a good rock playlist as well as an eclectic bunch of on-air personalities. However, Regis Lamar (Tom Tarpey) the sales manager wants to play some army recruitment commercials, which Jeff refuses to do and when he gets into a fight with management over it he quits. The rest of the staff decides to come to his rescue by staging an on-air sit-in where they lock themselves inside the station and refuse to play any commercials until management agrees to hire Jeff back, which soon attracts the attention of hundreds of listeners that pack the streets of L.A. until it becomes a mob scene.

If this movie succeeds at anything it is in its ability at bringing the ‘70s back to life. In fact if you ever wanted to get into a time machine and travel back to that decade to see what things were really like this film does it better than just about any other from that era. The sights, sounds and attitudes from that crazy decade literally ooze from every frame until you feel like you are living it yourself.

The film also manages to recreate the behind-the-scenes life at a radio station in a realistic way. Back in the ‘90s I worked in radio and even had my own weekend overnight show called ‘After Hours’ at a FM station in Chicago and the atmosphere shown here is on-target and enough to make me long to go back to it if it just paid more.

The characterizations are fun. Eileen Brennan takes a rare dramatic turn and does quite well playing an older D.J. named Mother who is burnt out from the business and wants to quit, but can’t quite pull herself completely away from it. Martin Mull is amusing as the narcissist Eric Swan who considers his on-air persona to be an ‘art form’ and he even traps himself inside the radio booth when he breaks up with his girlfriend and refuses to leave until one of his many female listeners agrees to take her place. Ironically both Mull and Cleavon Little who plays Prince the overnight jock also played D.J.’s in two other movies. Mull was in Jingle All the Way while Little was in Vanishing Point.

The film also has a strong ‘70s soundtrack. Not only does it open with a great stereo version of Steely Dan’s title hit, but just about every rock hit from 1978 can be heard playing in the background at some point. There is also excellent concert footage of Jimmy Buffet as well as Linda Ronstadt who does live versions of ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Poor, Poor Pitiful Me’, and ‘Love Me Tender’.

The film unfortunately falls apart at the end with a sit-in segment that proves unrealistic and exaggerated. Radio personal are hired and fired every day. It’s the nature of the business and one knows that going in and prepares for it. It is highly unlikely that any of the other employees would stage a sit-in like the one shown here simply because it would put not only their job, but careers in complete jeopardy. Dugan with his strong resume could easily find himself a job at another station pretty quickly, so their efforts seemed unnecessary. The idea that hundreds of people would come out onto the street to protest and even overturn cars is ridiculous and what’s worse is that the crowd scenes were clearly done on an inside soundstage making the entire segment look staged and fake.

I loved the first half and had it stayed on that slice-of-life level this could’ve been an interesting time capsule. In some ways it still is, but the ending gets so stupid that it pretty much ruins the whole thing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John A. Alonzo

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: VHS

Serial (1980)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like fads.

The world has turned into one giant fad and everyone and everything is a part of it. Martin Mull is the one remnant of sanity as he tries to survive in it while still keeping his balance.

There is hardly anything cinematic about this picture. Take out some of the ‘dirty’ references and you have a TV-movie. In many ways it’s barely a movie at all, but more of a compilation of skits running along the same theme.

Mull is definitely a good anchor as his glib, sardonic comments help keep this thing churning. The rest of the characters though don’t resemble real people in any way and many of the fads shown weren’t really followed by that many to begin with. It’s pretty restrained and soft and fails to attain the acidic wit of the Cyra McFadden novel of which it is based.

Attacking trendy people isn’t too difficult and this film fails to supply any new perspective on the subject. This is probably the most annoying thing about it, which is that it is as vapid and superficial as the people and lifestyles it tries to mock.

The film does manage to be fast paced and there are a few slightly amusing bits, which could prove entertaining to those on a really, really slow night. Of the good stuff there is a dog groomer who shouts to his barking dogs to “Shut up you sons of bitches.” There is also Mull going to an orgy and having to step through a whole mass of naked bodies before he can find his girlfriend. Kudos also must go out to the climatic finale that features a gay biker gang lead by Christopher Lee who rampage (on their motorbikes!) the home of a religious cult. The running gag of having Tuesday Weld constantly referring to the Pamela Bellwood character as a ‘cunt’ isn’t bad either.

Also, Ed Begley Jr. can be heard on the radio as a DJ in the opening sequence.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bill Persky

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD

Bad Manners (1984)

bad manners 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Orphans on the loose.

Piper (Greg Olden) is the new kid inside a rough orphanage who befriends Mouse (Michael Hentz) who looks up to Piper as a sort of tough guy hero. When Mouse gets adopted by a snotty rich couple (Martin Mull, Karen Black) Piper convinces the orphans to break out of the orphanage and rescue him.

If there is one thing that can be said for this film, which is so obscure it is not even listed in Leonard Maltin’s Video Guide, is that it is lively. Director Robert Houston uses a lot of quick edits, interesting camera work and spinning tracking shots to keep things at a fast, irreverent pace. Piper’s sessions with his psychiatrist, which is played by Stephen Stucker is the funniest. Stucker is best known for playing the hyper air traffic controller in Airplane, but I felt he was more engaging and amusing here. The scene where Mouse swallows a small dinner bell and sends everyone into a panic is also a riot.

Unfortunately the film is unable to hold the balance between quirky humor and action and eventually devolves into a cartoonish, silly mess that becomes pretty much just an R-rated kiddie flick. I also didn’t care for the synthesized music score, which had a generic sound similar to ones used in 80’s porn flicks and only further cemented this as an uninspired B-movie.

The children characters are excessively crude and in some ways I prefer it a little more like this because I think it is realistic to how teens and pre-teens behave instead of as the wide-eyed sweet innocents that some other movies portray them as, but parents most likely will cringe and won’t want their own kids to watch it. A mean-spiritedness permeates throughout and although I am not sure if this was intentional or not but the two male leads and the one female are quite androgynous.

The one thing that keeps it fun is the adult performers who seem more than up to the campiness. Murphy Dunne is delightfully hammy as the orphanage warden and Anne De Salvo is quite cute despite playing an oppressive nun. Mull’s glib one-liners are a perfect balance to the zaniness. Black is also great and practically steals the film at the very end when she goes on a spastic shooting spree. This also marks the final film appearance of Richard Deacon best known for playing Mel Cooley on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ who appears here in a brief bit as a ticket agent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Title: Growing Pains

Released: November 4, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Houston

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, YouTube