Tag Archives: Steve Martin

The Man with Two Brains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brain in a jar.

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) is a world famous brain surgeon who accidentally hits Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner) one day while driving his car. He immediately does surgery on her and during the recovery the two get married. However, Dolores is only interested in Michael’s money and continues to see other men behind his back. Michael on-the-other hand  meets with Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner) who keeps live brains in jars in his condo. Michael (Steve Martin) begins communicating with one of the brains (voice of Sissy Spacek) via telepathy and decides it is she that he really loves. When he becomes aware that the brain will not survive much longer on its own he desperately tries to find a suitable body to transplant it into.

This Steve Martin/Carl Reiner production, which is their third project together, certainly has its moments and I particularly liked the the mysterious elevator killer although once his identity is finally revealed viewers today will have no idea who that person actually is. However for the most part the film is highly uneven. Having it centered as a horror movie parody would’ve given it better focus and the jokes more of a point-of-view instead of just throwing in any haphazard gag it wants many of which have nothing to do with its already paper thin plot.

I realize this is all meant to be a very silly comedy, but having two victims get hit by a vehicle, once with Turner and then later on with Stephanie Kramer, in her film debut, where neither victim shows any sign of blood, scratches, or bruising is a bit ridiculous. This is where if it had been approached as a horror/comedy then they could’ve thrown in some gore, but in an over-the-top goofy way, that would’ve allowed a new dimension for laughs while also given it just a smidgen of reality to it, which otherwise is lacking.

Martin’s ability to have a conversation with a brain in a jar without any special apparatus connecting the two is equally ridiculous. The excuse is that it’s ‘telepathy’, but why is he able to communicate with just the one brain when there are many others that are also in the room? What special ability does this brain have over the others and why is Martin the only one that can hear it and no one else?

Having Martin hear Spacek’s voice as her thoughts come into his brain doesn’t make sense either. The definition of telepathy is the  communication of thoughts and ideas other than the known senses, but nothing to do with voices. Thoughts in themselves don’t have a distinct voice connected to them unless the brain is attached to a voice box, which this one isn’t.  It is true that thoughts going on in person’t own head may have that person’s voice, so Martin should actually be hearing his own voice as his brain deciphers the messages being sent to it from the other one much like if he were reading out loud a note that had been written by someone else.

This also marks an odd career choice for Turner who burst onto the scene with her sexy performance in Body Heat . I realize that in her effort to avoid typecasting she wanted to do something that was completely different from her first film, but her character is too campy and one-dimensional and she ends up getting completely upstaged by Martin in every scene they’re in. The role also has a creepy foreshadowing as her character gains a lot of weight much like she has in reality due to her rheumatoid arthritis. In real-life it’s the drugs and chemo that caused the weight gain while here it’s created through make-up and a body suit and intended for comical effect.

There’s also an interesting behind-the-scenes story dealing with a scene involving a 5-year-old girl, played by Mya Stark, who must verbally repeat back to Martin from memory a very complicated set of directions that he had just told her. Since she was too young to read no cue cards were used and director Reiner figured it would take all day to film the scene convinced that many retakes would inevitably be required for her to finally get the lines right, but instead to his shock she repeated the lines back correctly the very first time. Then 30 years later in 2012 Reiner was standing in line at a store when a female business executive approached him and introduced herself. She stated that they had met many years before, but Reiner didn’t recognize her until she told him that she was that little girl now all grown up.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

All of Me (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two people, one body.

Roger (Steve Martin) is a lawyer who finds his job unfulfilling while Edwina (Lily Tomlin) is a millionaires suffering from a terminal illness and about to die. She has employed the services of a mystic named Prahka Lasa (Richard Libertini) who has mastered the ability to transfer human souls. She wants her soul placed into the body of a young woman named Terry (Victoria Tennant). Roger is then hired to change Edwina’s will, so all of her money will go to Terry, but a mishap occurs transferring Edwina’s soul to Roger’s body instead. Roger controls the left side and Edwina controls the right. While the two can’t get along they’re required to work together to find the guru and get the mistake corrected.

The film, which is based on an unpublished novel called ‘Me Two’ by Edwin Davis, has its share of funny moments, but they mainly come during the first half. Martin’s physical comedy that he does on a busy sidewalk as he’s required to learn to walk in tandem with the other soul is a laugh-out-loud moment though it would’ve heightened the humor had more passerby’s looked at him as if he were a nut. The scene at a urinal were Martin must cooperate with Tomlin in order for him to take a pee is quite good too and the best moment in the movie.

The script though cheats the scenario by entering in too many illogical points. The concept of a soul ‘sleeping’, had me baffled. Now, I admit I haven’t kept up on the latest in soul science, but it seems to me that a soul should have no need or require sleep. Only the body that a soul is housed in needs to sleep from time to time when it runs out of energy, so through that logic Martin and Tomlin’s souls should have to go to sleep at the same time since they are both housed inside a body that is tired instead of having one remain awake while the other isn’t. The courtroom scene in which Martin sleeps while Tomlin busily moves the body around seemed quite ridiculous too as it’s hard to imagine anyone could sleep while their body talks and walks and in front of other people that speak directly to it.

The scene in the church in which Martin wakes up and doesn’t hear Tomlin’s voice, so he immediately presumes that she’s asleep, is flawed too. Nobody had given him information that souls can sleep, so why does he jump to this conclusion? Why not consider other possibilities instead like maybe her soul had left his body, or that what occurred previously had just been an hallucination or dream?

While both Martin and Tomlin give good performances the supporting cast, or at least the cardboard characters that they’re forced to play, help to bog the whole thing down. Madolyn Smith, as Martin’s jilted fiancee, is too much of a broad caricature while Tennant, who Martin later married in real-life, makes for an incredibly dull villainess.

Libertini is annoying too particularly with his inability to differentiate between a telephone and a toilet bowl. Every time the phone rings he thinks it’s coming from the toilet and never picks up the receiver. It’s an attempted parody to show that he comes from a culture that is technologically deprived, but even the dumbest most isolated person with a modicum of common sense will eventually realize that the ringing sound is coming from the little box in the living room making this lame bit, which gets repeated multiple times, quite dumb.

The biggest downfall though is that the two get too chummy too quickly. Having them remain adversarial and constantly fighting for control of the body would’ve invited far more comically dynamic scenarios than what we are actually given. The plot twists in the third act aren’t interesting either and I found myself getting less engaged the more it went on and left with a flat feeling when it was over.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Pennies from Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping from the depression.

Arthur (Steve Martin) is a struggling sheet music salesmen during the depression, who’s looking to escape his dreary existence by becoming a songwriter, but finds that no one including his wife (Jessica Harper) cares about what his dreams, which leaves him feeling lost and alone. He then meets perky schoolteacher Eileen (Bernadette Peters) and the two begin an affair despite her not knowing that he is already married. When she gets pregnant and loses her job because of it Arthur is nowhere to be found and instead he gets unjustly tabbed for committing rape on a blind woman (Eliska Krupka) that he did not do.

The film is based on a 6-part miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1978 and starred Bob Hoskins. Martin saw it and was so enamored with the story that he became compelled to have it remade here and the studio even hired the same writer, Dennis Potter, to pen the script although the studio forced him to do 13 rewrites before they finally accepted it. Despite the extravagant musical numbers, which are pretty good, and positive critical reception, the filmed failed to achieve any success at the box office where it took in a paltry 2 million that barely made a dent in its 22 million budget.

A lot of the blame can be placed on the casting of Martin. While I admire him for not allowing himself to be typecast, and for dying his hair brown here, he still comes off as misplaced. You keep waiting for him to say something goofy and absurd like his character in The Jerk would and when he doesn’t you start feeling bored and frustrated. For his part he lashed out at those that didn’t like it calling them ‘ignorant scum’ while anyone who did enjoy the film he labeled ‘wise and intelligent’.

Yet his character is also a problem as he comes off as arrogant and selfish the whole way through. He constantly antagonizes his shy wife pressuring her to submit to his kinky sexual fantasies and when she doesn’t he threatens to walk out. He then lies about his marital status to Peters and is cold and ambivalent when she gets pregnant making him seem like a true jerk and not the funny kind in his earlier film.

Jessica Harper I enjoyed much more. I think she gives her finest performance here and I was genuinely surprised she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. Her interpretation of a shy, sheltered Midwestern wife from a more innocent era is completely on-target and I came to sympathize far more with her than Martin. The line that she utters when the police investigators come to her house, after Martin gets accused of rape, is the best moment in the movie. Peters is good too, but I felt her character got in the way and the film would’ve gelled better had it focused solely on the dysfunctional marriage.

The dance numbers are well choreographed with the best one being with Christopher Walken who does a bona fide striptease that took him over 2 months to rehearse. The bit in which Martin and Peters find themselves transported inside a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is quite cool too although Astaire himself tried blocking the footage from being used. He later commented that as a viewer ” I have never spent two more miserable hours in my life” and describing every scene in the film as being “cheap and vulgar.”

The story though starts out too slowly and for the first hour seems like there really isn’t any plot at all. It improves by the second half, but there needed to be more urgency at the beginning and many viewers may not be willing to stick with it.  Having the actors lip-sync the songs was a bad idea too. It gives the whole thing an amatuerish vibe making it seem like it was intended to be a campy comedy when it really wasn’t.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, 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

Another Nice Mess (1972)

another nice mess 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spiro and Tricky Dick.

This film is an odd, misfired concoction from writer/director Bob Einstein (Albert Brooks’ older brother) who had just won an Emmy for his writing on ‘The Smothers Brothers Show’ and decided to try his creative muscle at filmmaking. The idea might’ve seemed clever at the time, but it has not aged well. The premise has President Richard Nixon (played by Rich Little) and Vice President Spiro Agnew (played by Herb Voland) behaving like Laurel and Hardy and spending the entire runtime going through some of that classic duo’s more famous routines.

If you were alive during Nixon’s administration than this may come off as being a bit funnier than to those who weren’t however, taking potshots at the President is no longer fresh and for the most part even a bit tiring to watch. The vaudeville-like routines are predictable and this thing had me bored two-minutes in and even with its brief running time still was a major drag to sit through.

Voland is much funnier than Little and seems to imitate the comic legend of Stan Laurel far better than Little does with Hardy, but the characters are played up to be completely moronic and having to watch them do and say one mind numbingly stupid thing after another becomes very one-dimensional.

The film Hail was a Nixon satire that came out around the same time, but that film fared much better and was even quite clever at times. The main reason was that they had a plot while this one is just a non-stop gag reel with a first-graders level of sophistication.

If there’s one redeeming quality for watching this it would be in seeing Steve Martin in his film debut playing a hippie. He doesn’t have his patented white hair here and instead it’s long, curly and brown. I probably wouldn’t have even recognized him if it weren’t for his voice and mannerisms.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 6Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bob Einstein

Studio: Fine Films

Available: None at this time.

Roxanne (1987)

roxanne

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His nose is big.

Charley (Steve Martin) runs the local fire department and just happens to have a really long nose, which at times causes him to be the butt of jokes. Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) is a beautiful student of astronomy who is spending the summer in the small town of Nelson studying a comet. Charley becomes smitten with her, but doesn’t dare ask her out due to his fear that she will reject him. Chris (Rick Rossovich) is the good looking guy who moves to the area and immediately catches Roxanne’s eye. The problem is that he is very shy with women, so Charley helps him out by writing letters to her while pretending that they were done by Chris, which captures Roxanne’s heart without her realizing that the man she is really in love with is Charley.

There have been many remakes old movies and in this case an old stage play named Cyrano De Begerac and for the most part they fail and only help to make the viewer long for the original, but this is the rare case where the updating of the story actually works. One of the main reasons is that it doesn’t try, in an effort to be ‘hip’, to go for the crude angle like a lot of modern remakes do and instead keeps it charming and breezy while having a main character with a sense of humor and not drowning in self-pity.

The on-location shooting, which was done in the small town of Nelson, British Columbia, helps as well. The hilly, green landscape gives the film a serene feeling and the quirky supporting characters seem very much like people you’d bump into when passing through one of these places. The humor is also top notch particularly the running gag involving the incompetent fire department.

Martin remains the film’s biggest selling point particularly the scene where he tries to use eye shadow to help darken his nose and make it less conspicuous or the moment when he lets a parakeet perch itself on it. His best part though comes when tries to come up with 20 insults to say to someone with a big nose.

Hannah is stunningly beautiful to the point of being breathtaking and fortunately this was years before she had her ill-advised plastic surgery, which now makes her looks far less appealing. Rossovich is also quite good and tends to be overlooked due to Martin’s presence, but manages to be quite funny as well especially the scene where he tries to meet Roxanne in person while having Charley telling him what to say through a radio transmitter.

Shelley Duvall, Michael J. Pollard and Fred Willard also deserve mention for their supporting work here and this marks the film debut for Kevin Nealon who appears in an early bit as a bully who tries to make fun of Charley’s nose, but learns the hard way that he shouldn’t.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Fred Schepisi

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

The Jerk (1979)

the jerk

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This is stupidly brilliant.

This is the type of film that looks like it was done by people that were stoned and meant for audiences that were equally stoned. The ‘story’ runs like it was conceived by someone who couldn’t come up with a real plot so they did this instead. The whole thing is as simple and mindless as the character it depicts with no real correlation to anything. Everything is thrown in haphazardly and at times looks like nothing but a very desperate and strained attempt for a laugh. This is coupled by a performance by Steve Martin that is very one-dimensional and even amateurish. He behaves like one of those annoying class clowns looking for attention and yet despite all this it still manages to be funny sometimes really, really funny.

This is a definite precursor to Dumb and Dumber and others like it and in many ways this is still the best as it completely stretches the stupidity axiom. It tests the audience’s perceptions on what is tolerable and logical. This doesn’t just have a couple of guys who are weird everybody and everything is weird. The humor works totally outside of the box. It gets you to laugh at things you didn’t think you would and also gets you to see things differently. It creates a warped world that for the first hour is consistent and fun, but by the second hour it begins to struggle and ultimately overreaches.

Martin’s ‘air head’ routine doesn’t seem too original since he had been using it previously in his stand-up acts and comedy guest stints. His character is too dumb and naive to be believable and there is never any explanation for it. He manages to give his performance a certain endearing quality, which is the only thing that saves it. The opening segment has him growing up a white boy amongst a poor black family, which borders dangerously close to being racist and stereotypical.

There is a good supporting cast, but they seem wasted and many of them only have a few lines. Bernadette Peters, as his love interest, really doesn’t add much however Jackie Mason is pretty good as Martin’s boss at a gas station. Maurice Evans is also fun as Martin’s butler and has an amusing way of responding to his wife’s sudden death. Rob Reiner, the director’s son, appears in a cameo as a truck driver who gives Martin a lift ‘up to the end of the fence.’

Overall this is pretty goofy stuff, but only for those who are in the right frame of mind for it. It’s a simple, scattershot formula that produces some genuine laughs.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Universal

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

The Lonely Guy (1984)

the lonely guy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He needs a girlfriend.

This film almost seems like an extension of Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk and could probably be retitled ‘The Jerk Goes to the Big Apple’. Here we find the same incredibly vapid, highly benign character looking for love and adjusting to the pitfalls of being single.

Like with The Jerk the film taps into the same absurd type of humor some of which is quite funny, but other parts become stretched and even stupid. The best stuff comes at the beginning and then starts to get strained by the end. There is no real story and the whole thing is just loosely structured hit-or-miss comical bits casually tied around the theme of loneliness.

Based on the novel by Bruce Jay Friedman the script was written by Neil Simon, Ed Weinberger and Stan Daniels three titans of comedy who have written some smart stuff in the past and yet I found their script here to be a bit annoying. It takes on the serious issue of social alienation with kid gloves. The points that it makes are superficial with no effort to dig deeper or make any type of real statement. The single male characters are too hopeless and needy and too much emphasis is placed on relationships and the misconception that people who are in them are always happier than those who are not. It also acts like being in relationships will somehow solve everything.

Judith Ivey makes a nice addition as Martin’s eventual girlfriend. She is not glamorously beautiful and therefore the two make a nice and realistic looking pairing. Her scenes and interactions with Martin make the film much stronger.

Unfortunately with Charles Grodin, who is dynamic at dry deadpan humor, is not used to his full potential. Merv Griffin has an unfunny cameo and the recently departed Joyce Brothers also appears with her nerdette persona that was beginning to wear thin.  Singer Steve Lawrence is completely miscast as a ‘chick-magnet’.

The bit involving lonely men jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge every two minutes borders on being tasteless and the running gag involving Ivey having an orgasm every time a man sneezes is just plain dumb. However, the part where Martin argues with a policeman over whether the poop on the sidewalk is from his dog is a gem. There is also a hilarious bit involving Groodin throwing a party with cardboard cutouts of famous movie stars as his ‘guests’ although don’t look for one of Gene Hackman because his have to be reserved one-week in advance!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 27, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t trust these guys.

Freddy (Steve Martin) is a small-time con able to trick women into paying for his meals and sometimes even into their beds, but he is nothing compared to Lawrence (Michael Caine). This is a man that lives in luxury all from money that he has duped from rich women. Freddy decides to team up with Lawrence to learn his craft. The two work together for a while with Freddy playing Lawrence’s crazy younger brother, but the two have a falling out and end up becoming rivals instead. They meet Janey Colgate (Glenne Headley) the supposed daughter of a rich soap manufacturer and compete to see who can con her out of $50,000.

This version is far superior to Bedtime Story, which was reviewed yesterday. The pace is snappier and gets into the scenario more quickly. The scenes are consistently amusing and everything is handled at a slick level. The women aren’t all portrayed as naïve idiots like in the first and in certain cases they are just as corrupt and greedy as the two men. The music is bouncy and playful and helps propel the movie along.

Although both films were shot along the French Rivera this one does a better job of capturing the sunny and exotic locale. When Freddy visits Lawrence at his mansion and looks out at his exquisite seaside view and says ‘I want this’ I felt like saying ‘I want it too’.

I wasn’t sure Martin could top Marlon Brando’s performance from the first film, which was the only thing good about it, but he does. It took a little adjusting at first, but Martin takes the reins and in his usual style makes the part his own. His best segment is when he is in jail and can’t remember Lawrence’s name, which makes terrific use of his improvisational skills. The part where he asks to go to the bathroom is a little bit gross, but funny as well.

Caine is excellent is his part and gives the role more panache than David Niven did in the first one. He even puts on an effective German accent during the segment where he pretends to be a famous German psychiatrist. Believe it or not the parts of Freddy and Lawrence were originally intended for Mick Jagger and David Bowie.

Headley is good in her role as well. She has an attractive quality about her that is distinct and natural and avoids the plastic Hollywood starlet image. Her voice borders on being a little nasally, which could have become annoying, but with this type of part it works.

The best thing about this version though is the twist ending, which helps to maintain the slick level throughout the entire duration of the story. In the first version the ending was highly contrived and unimaginative as well as going against the personalities of the characters. Here it hits-the-mark and works as a nice payoff to the rest of the film.

The only critical comment I have about the movie is that it goes on a bit too long. 110 minutes is too extended a runtime for light comedy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank Oz

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD