Sunday, December 18, 2011

If Orion Studios Greenlighted This, They Deserved to Fail: "Clifford" (1994)



Martin Short and Charles Grodin star in this mess of a comedy that unsettled me more often than it made me want to hurl.

Martin Short plays ten year old Clifford, a little tyke who makes Dennis the Menace look like a choirboy. Therein lies the first massive mistake in the film- Short pulls everything he can out of his magic fun comedy bag, but does not elicit one chuckle playing a child. Anyway, Clifford's parents cannot stand to be around him, and on their way to Honolulu, they drop the little darling off with Clifford's Uncle Martin (Charles Grodin) in Los Angeles. Martin is having his own problems with fiancee Sarah (what is Mary Steenburgen doing in this?), who wants kids. Martin decides to prove to Sarah that he loves kids, and takes in Clifford, whose only wish is to go to local theme park Dinosaur World. What follows is an hour and a half of Clifford ruining Martin's life, Martin shrieking at Clifford, and Sarah not believing the worst about the child. The story is framed by an older Clifford, a priest in 2050, telling the story to a young runaway played by Ben Savage.

Words cannot describe how stupid this comedy is, but if that were true, this review would end right now...this is woefully unfunny. I was too busy being weirded out by Short's casting to realize right away that he was the film's only gimmick. The story is so weak and padded, the only reason you do not turn it off after the first ten minutes is because the sadist in you wants to see how much more creepy Short gets playing a kid; and it does get really creepy. Grodin, who has become the grumpiest television personality in America after Bryant Gumbel and Don Imus, grates and grates on the viewer's nerves until you wish Clifford would take up a firearm. Steenburgen looks completely trapped in this film, and Dabney Coleman plays another variation of his "9 to 5" jerk boss routine.

Flaherty's direction is terribly flat, and the cinematography is amateur looking- casting so many shadows I thought I was watching a Thai finger puppet show. The finale at the theme park, involving a ride gone wrong is weak. For one thing, this is supposed to be a major theme park, yet the ride can take only one person at a time? Imagine that line during tourist season! The script is boring since it sets up the premise, then beats it to death. Oh, no, Clifford forced the plane down on an emergency landing! Oh, no, Clifford gets a crush on Sarah! Oh, no, Clifford makes fun of Martin's boss' toupee! This all got real old real quick.

"Clifford" sat on a shelf for quite a while before being dismissed en masse by the movie going public. I welcome the opportunity to dismiss it as well. Today, the name "Clifford" refers to a giant red cartoon dog in children's books and on PBS. This film is the equivalent of what comes out of the back end of that canine. (*) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Clifford