Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hyperextended: "The Strongest Man in the World" (1975)

A good natured Disney film suffers from the absence of its main star, Kurt Russell.

Kurt Russell is Dexter, he of other assorted Disney films involving the lucky Medfield University student who gets in a variety of trouble. This time around, Dexter and his nerdy pals accidentally create a formula that gives whoever takes it superhuman strength. Wrongly, they think the formula is a combination of vitamins added to a cereal.

Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) is trying to cut costs by the science dean, but then comes up with a plan. Medfield, being sponsored by the cereal company run by Aunt Harriet (Eve Arden) challenges the State University weight lifting team to a match. State is sponsored by a rival cereal company run by Krinkle (Phil Silvers). The large cast expands as Krinkle and his industrial spy Harry (Dick Van Patten) hire Arno (Cesar Romero) to get the formula from one of Dexter's goofy friends.

The formula is retrieved, but still does not work, and Medfield begins losing the match until Dexter remembers the missing ingredient, and saves the day.

Despite the scant plot, I found myself laughing out loud through most of this. The slapstick is funny, and the cast mugs their faces off for the kids. Joe Flynn is a riot as the flustered dean, stealing every scene he is in. Russell is likable enough as Dexter, but he disappears for much of the middle of the film so as to let the adults get their screen time.

Filmed in the mid 1970's, there are dated characters and situations all over the place. This datedness includes a horrible scene in a Chinese restaurant that smacks of racism. This is Disney, so every plot point is telegraphed. The cast is filled with familiar faces from film and television, and it certainly is comfortable. The film makers do not dumb it down for the kiddies, but there is not enough here to keep the adults entertained, either.

When you see the words "live action Disney film," you cringe. "The Strongest Man in the World" provides laughs and thrills, but cringing will soon set in. (* * *) out of five stars.