Friday, October 26, 2012

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Four Comedies and a Funeral

After last week's pretty depressing fare, I decided to lighten things up with a few comedies and a Billy Bob Thornton cop drama, which may provide a few laughs of its own.

This week's picks from Drama- "The Badge," and from Comedy- "Clifford," "Hanky Panky," "The Ladykillers (1950's version)," and "Straight Talk." We'll start with Billy Bob behind "The Badge."

It's not that this is a bad movie, but it is badly written. Writer/Director Robby Henson decides more is more. There are eight production companies and eleven executive producers associated with this, and about that many major speaking parts in the film. Thornton plays a Louisiana parish sheriff investigating the murder of a transsexual in a swamp. He gets a little help from the transsexual's wife, Patricia Arquette, and runs up against the entire town. The final credits read like a city directory, the unmasking of the killer is weak, but Thornton and Arquette save this from being a one star film.

Wait a minute, "Clifford" doesn't have a big red dog in it. I wish it did. Martin Short plays ten year old Clifford, and Charles Grodin is his hapless uncle in an embarrassing film whose original prints should be gathered in a big barrel and shot into space, never to be seen again. This is terribly unfunny, and helped bring down mid-size studio Orion. Orion deserved everything they got for deciding this was a good idea.

If I hadn't rented "Clifford," then "Hanky Panky" would have been the worst film of the bunch. Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner star in this shockingly unfunny variation on Alfred Hitchcock's "innocent man on the run" films. Sidney Poitier, of all people, mechanically directs long slapstick scenes that left me as speechless as..."Clifford." Not as bad as the earlier disaster, but close. Let's kill an old lady!

In "The Ladykillers," a group of robbers conspire, and use their sweet little old landlady on a crime without her knowing it. She soon finds out, and the five eventually turn on each other, all while trying to decide who is going to kill her. This has a few slow spots, but the cast is so good, including Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers in a film together before the Pink Panther series, and Alexander Mackendrick's direction is wonderful, it is the best film of the week...unless "Straight Talk" proves to be so good that I'll eat my words...yeah, right.

"Straight Talk" coasts on the funny performance by the always underrated Dolly Parton, and nothing else. When her two love interests are played by heavies James Woods and Michael Madsen, then maybe the casting director forgot to read the script. Everything feels forced, including Woods' attempts to smile without looking creepy, and the wrap-up is idiotic and predictable. Dolly saves this from being a total bomb, barely.

Ouch, not a good week at the video store. Of the five, only one stood out as recommendable. The best to worst, in order:

1. The Ladykillers
2. The Badge
3. Straight Talk
4. Hanky Panky
5. Clifford

Remember, if you have seen these films, vote on them and confirm my gut feeling that all prints of "Clifford" should be torched.

Next week, the "Oscar Denied" column returns. This year, a film from the biggest fantasy series of all-time is up for Best Picture, and all bets are on it...of course, the same situation happened almost thirty years ago, and "Star Wars" lost to Woody Allen. Who should have won? See you then.