The Dream Team (1989)

In Tuesday’s post on Beetlejuice, I touched on the fact that Michael Keaton was an entertainer that helped inform some of my sensibilities both in terms of my own artistic expression and my sense of humor. Another effort from the actor that would make a dramatic impact on my young brain and that was in heavy rotation in family viewing cycles as I was growing up was The Dream Team, a comedy that, for all intents and purposes, highlights one of my favorite aspects involved in a hallmark Keaton performance—his manic intensity. This trait would become a signature one for the actor, showing up as far back as Night Shift and honed to maximum effect by directors like Tim Burton in Hollywood blockbusters. Director Howard Ziff—mainly known, if at all, for the My Girl films—recognized this fact and cast Keaton in a role that would allow him to fully embrace his ID as a performer, that of a mental patient, Billy Caufield, with a momentous case of anger management issues. Watching the actor work his magic in the  role of Billy is a treat for any true-blue Keatonite; the actor’s face begins to contort in comedic fashion as rage begins to bubble to the surface, then his eyes light up as just as he begins to explode with all the power of a volcano on a bad day. Keaton is forever an expert in relating to the audience what mischievous thoughts his character has running through his mind through minimal gesture; he possesses a true physical presence when it comes to both drama and comedy. The actor’s least talked about physical skill—his secret weapon if you will—are two of the most expressive eyebrows in the history of cinema. The only modern actor that gives him a true run for his money is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but Keaton still holds dominion over the former pro-wrestler—he can use both at will.

Using the unauthorized outing scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest—in which Jack Nicholson’s character, R. P. McMurphy, takes some of his fellow mental patients on a fishing trip—as inspiration, Ziff’s underrated comedy tells the story of four mental patients and the psychiatrist who tries his best to help them as they venture into New York City to take in a baseball game. Caufield is the de facto leader of this quartet, an angry, fast-talking man prone to throwing chairs through windows in group therapy sessions, but sadly, still remains the most well-adjusted in a group rounded out by Henry (Christopher Lloyd, continuing a hot streak after Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), an obsessive compulsive who has deluded himself into thinking he is a doctor at the hospital rather than a patient; Jack (Peter Boyle) a former mad man in the advertising world who suffered a breakdown and now believes himself to be the messiah, who also happens to have a proclivity for nudity in both private and public settings; and finally, rounding out the bunch is Albert (Stephen Furst), a man who can only communicate to others through catchphrases and dialogue he heard emerge from the idiot box. Trouble begins to set in on the group outing after Albert drinks a copious amount of Hawaiian Punch and needs to make an emergency pit stop. With no bathroom in sight, the group’s psychiatrist must pull their van over and usher Albert into an alleyway to relieve himself, during which time, unluckily for him, he witnesses a pair of dirty cops off a clean one, gets knocked unconscious and hauled off to the hospital, leaving our heroes unsupervised and left to their own devices in the Big Apple. While none are able to function in society by themselves, when they make a concentrated effort to finally put all the bickering and infighting to rest, they manage to come together and between them form a personality that might just be able to locate their shrink and put the bad guys in jail before they have a chance to finish what they started.

As I have gotten older, I have acquired a healthy dose of sentimentality, and when viewing The Dream Team, I get transported back to a simpler time in my life, the 1980s. Some might argue that the film hasn’t aged well, what with the presence of acid wash and cutoff jeans worn by the extras as they roam in the background, Keaton’s glorious mullet, and the use of the Was (Not Was)’s hit single “Walk the Dinosaur” not just once, but twice. Hell, Billy even has a monologue about Wolfen, a ’80s horror flick featuring werewolves running amuck in New York that has long since been forgotten by anyone other than film buffs like me. However, I reside on the opposite side of the fence, as I believe that fact only serves to heighten my enjoyment of the film. Hollywood, like the rest of America (myself included), has become much too cynical and bathed in ironic trappings to produce comedies of this nature all that often. There is nothing mean-spirited or hateful coloring of the plot and dialogue of the film; it’s just a movie whose primary purpose is to entertain and provide its audience with laughs. The Dream Team remains a true crowd pleaser, one that involves characters who are able to overcome their issues, work together, and make that all important first step toward becoming a functional human being once again. In fact, I challenge anyone to watch Peter Boyle’s Jack as he breaks out singing “Hit the Road Jack” while Stephen Furst’s Albert first looks shocked, then slowly allows a childlike grin to wash across his face as he begins to bob back and forth in his seat and not laugh. Ditto for the scene in which Jack testifies in church to a rollicking congregation, then, caught up in the spirit, begins to disrobe as they look on in horror. If you can make it through that without emitting a chuckle, then lucky you, as you may just possess the world’s worst sense of humor since those people who coughed up big bucks to sit in the front row of a Gallagher concert. As for me, anytime this band of misfits want to go to the big city and take in a ballgame while sitting in the cheap seats downing stadium dogs, sign me up—it sounds like a blast to me.

Play ball!

-David

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Beetlejuice (1988)

After the seed was unintentionally (?) planted last week by Barron—one of the editors over at Music’s Okay (I Guess)—to do a week focusing on the filmography of Michael Keaton, I was struggling to figure out which movie to write about first. Since we decided to save Jackie Brown for the week of Tarantino posts we have scheduled to celebrate the release of Django Unchained in December, and John is covering the Batman films in his lead up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the two films that immediately sprang to mind had to be tabled for the greater good. As I lay in bed pondering my dilemma, I was distracted by a new app I had downloaded to my phone several weeks earlier, Google Sky Maps. For those who don’t fancy themselves stargazers or aren’t overly familiar with this bit of technology, the app allows you to locate constellations, stars, and planets simply by pointing your phone in any direction. In this instance, I had pointed my phone out my bedroom window, and low and behold, the star that greeted me was none other than Betelgeuse, the eighth brightest star in the night sky and the second brightest in the Orion constellation. It would seem that my decision had been made for me, I thought to myself. And I couldn’t argue with their advice. I freakin’ LOVE Beetlejuice, and at the risk of bombarding our small readership with yet another film directed by Tim Burton, I feel that this film is always worth discussion—after all, it was an important film in my childhood and at least one other editor of this website as well.

Beetlejuice is the second full-length motion picture from the director and it established him as a force to be reckoned with; a major and endlessly inventive voice was on display for the second time in a row—the first film being Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure—only this time he would bring a more dour and goth sensibility to the proceedings, all the while launching the career of Wynona Rider, providing Michael Keaton one of his signature characters, successfully spinning the film into a popular Saturday morning cartoon show, and going a long way toward establishing a unique acting troupe that he would remain loyal to throughout his 27 years in cinema. The script—penned by Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren—follows Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) a young New England couple who are proud owners of an old-fashioned home (one that wouldn’t look out of place in a Norman Rockwell painting) located in the sticks, far away from big city life. After perishing in an auto accident on a red wooden bridge, the husband and wife have a hard time transitioning and coping with their life after death scenario—even with a dusty old book titled The Guidebook for the Dead (it reads like stereo instructions) and a case worker named Juno who has little patience for the shell-shocked duo. Exasperating their situation are the Deetzes, (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, and Ryder) a family from the Big Apple who move into their home, and promptly modernize their once quaint abode into a trashy piece of avant-garde art with the help of Otho (the dearly departed Glenn Shadix), an interior designer with a penchant for dabbling in the black arts. Desperate to reclaim their home, the Maitlands enlist Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) a freelance “bio-exorcist” and all-around pervert and knave to scare away the Deetzes. The only problem is Betelgeuse is only interested in wooing (in his own deviant fashion) and marrying Lydia so he can once again take his place among the living. In an effort to stop the out-of-control ghost, the Maitlands and the Deetzes have to put away their issues and stop feuding; but can they live in harmony long enough to do so?

While Beetlejuice is chock-full of eccentric and hilarious characters (Jeffery Jones and Catherine O’Hara in particular are standouts), the true star of the show is only present for about a third of the movie’s run time. As Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton goes way over-the-top, which shows perfect judgment on the performer’s behalf; after all, how else is this “ghost with the most” supposed to act? He eats bugs, spits out raunchy jokes at an alarming rate, and can make his head spin at dizzying speeds—even when it’s still attached to his shoulders. He’s the used-car salesman of the afterlife and Keaton brings him to life in the most vivid of ways. In the film’s penultimate scene, the actor goes for broke after Otho resurrects the Maitlands in a creepy weeding-style ceremony allowing Beetlejuice to terrorize the Deetzes and their dinner guests (look kids, its Robert Goulet!) in his demented carnival of horrors and also by taking the form of a giant demonic snake (stop-motion animator Ted Rae, hard at work). Keaton straddles the line of all out baddy and likeable specter with ease and shares a wonderful chemistry with Wynona Rider’s Lydia (personifying Tim Burton’s vision of the perfect, introverted girlfriend). Beetlejuice even exhibits a small amount of humanistic, relatable qualities—he’s afraid of Sandworms (Sandworms. You hate ‘em right? I hate ‘em myself!) and dammit, he’s just worn down by all this afterlife business and a permanent vacation to the side of existence that still requires a pulse would scratch that particular itch just fine.

Burton worked hard to create a unique style and visual sense with Beetlejuice, and it pays off handsomely with sequences featuring lovingly created practical effects, puppetry, prosthetic makeup, and miniatures. The director drew on inspiration from the cheap Ed Wood-style B movies of his youth, films that would serve as inspiration to the auteur throughout his career. Burton’s sophomore effort was only made for $13 million, which is staggering when you consider the scope of the film along with the amount of effects that went into creating the afterlife sequences and climax. Highlights of Burton and company’s technical wizardry includes the creature design of the preacher from hell—summoned to marry Beetlejuice and Lydia, Adam and Barbara’s early, failed attempts to scare off the Deetzes, and the practical effects that went into, for my money, the film’s standout scene, a dinner party that turns into a boisterous musical number all the while using a Harry Belafonte tune to considerable effect.

Having first viewed this film early on in my childhood, I can’t help but wonder if it helped to inform my sense of humor—I know it had a dramatic impact on my imagination, helping to plant the seeds of creativity and originality that would inform some of my earliest writing efforts. In addition, I also remember being confused by the television show. How could Lydia and Beetlejuice now be compadres, I wondered? It seemed to me that by torturing her family and forcing her into marriage for purely selfish reasons would result in large hurdles when trying to form a long-lasting, meaningful friendship. I watched the show faithfully, nonetheless, despite the fact that it would never reach the creative heights of the film*. No matter. In creating Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton and Tim Burton played a large part in the development of the left side of my brain, for better or for worse (it was for the better).

-David

* A fact that I now know as an adult, a cartoon show on Saturday morning could never exhibit the traits of the film. Tears would have been shed by children expecting Shirt Tales’ style adventures and, in turn, parents would have burnt down the studio defending their kids’ honor. Or something like that.

Batman Returns (1992)

I’m incredibly happy about the positive responses we’ve gotten from last week’s Multiplicity post and we’ve had a couple requests for more beloved Keaton features. So now we proudly present a full week devoted to the cinematic prowess of the great Michael Keaton and starting off is my favorite of Keaton-related features (and continuation of my Dark Knight countdown), Batman Returns.

To me Batman Returns is the greatest of all Batman films. Even after Christopher Nolan took the reigns of the cinematic franchise I still stand by the dark, twisted macabre noir thriller that is Tim Burton’s follow-up to his 1989 epic blockbuster. As I mentioned in the last Batman post, the 89 feature came with a series of production problems, resulting in a somewhat disjointed third act. Tim Burton fully came into his own with the 1990 classic Edward Scissorhands, another box-office success and Warner Bros. decided to give Burton full reign on the production of the highly anticipated follow-up to the studios biggest success. The result is not what audiences, studio execs or advertisers like McDonald’s were expecting. Its dark, sadistic, cruel, sexually explicit, and often morally questionable. To fans of the Batman legacy or cinematic tension in general its absolute movie bliss.

Let me give you a little bit of what occurs in this film and keep in mind I first saw this opening day when I was SIX years old. The film opens with the classic Batman logo, which immediately turns to snow covered ice and slowly breaks away. Danny Elfman’s haunting score leads us into a long corridor of a Gothic mansion where the screams of a women in childbirth and the squawking of a not-so-normal sounding baby are heard. The doctor presses a handkerchief against his mouth in disgust as the father of the child (played by Pee-Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens) rushes into the birthing room and screams in horror. The next image the mother (played by  Pee Wee’s beloved Simone, Diane Salinger) and father look on as their infant child grabs an innocent cat by its tail, pulls it into his crib and rips it to shreds. The opening sequence concludes with the parents chucking the baby into Gotham City’s river and the camera following it into the deepest depths of the sewer.

We return to Gotham City present day. The odious businessman Max Schreck (Christopher Walken at his maniacal best) is in the middle of Gotham City’s Christmas Tree lighting ceremony when the event is interrupted by Cobblepot’s Red Triangle circus gang. Here the movie fully achieves the status of Frank Miller’s vision of Batman as made famous (and ever since, essential) in the 1980s. Commissioner Gordon commands the signal. The notorious image is produced in the sky. Exterior: Wayne Manor. The signal is projected by a series of reflective surfaces and mirrors around the manor and finally the full light of the bat emblem is protruding through the main office of Bruce Wayne. Here we see Michael Keaton for the first time in the film. He’s sitting alone in total darkness. The signal beams around the room, coating him in an elegant light. He rises and looks straight ahead into the signal….straight at his calling. This IS Batman. What does Bruce Wayne do when he’s not Batman? He sits around in total fucking darkness and waits for crime to dare and show its bitch face. Sorry Schumacher, but the Batman is meant to be a freaking beast!

There’s no denying Batman is totally brutal in this film. He scorches a henchman with the Batmobile’s fire-spitting exhaust. He attaches a bomb to a muscle-bound thug, tosses him over the side of a building and walks on as he explodes into pieces in the background. This is Batman at his most interesting. Battling his inner demons and nearly crossing the line that separates himself from the criminals.

Keaton is an absolute triumph in the role. His big dark eyes have a mystery and intensity that can truly carry a film from mostly behind a mask. As Batman recoils from a bumbling Selena Kyle aka Catwoman or shrugs off a bewildered Gordon its hard not to feel scared that this man means business. His sentimental moments with Catwoman and chemistry with the great Michelle Pfeiffer escalates the emotional level of a mainstream film to new heights. When Wayne and Selina discover there true identities during a masquerade ball its truly heartbreaking.

Pfeiffer delivers a villainous portrayal that rivals Jack Nicholson’s iconic Joker. This may actually be the best performance Pfeiffer’s given us yet. She really digs deep into the psyche of the character and makes it her own. The ability to be shy and nerdy one moment, frighteningly manic and terrifying the next, extremely sexy the following and finally sympathetic and vulnerable. Its unbelievable. I’ve had many people tell me that Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is their favorite of the Batman franchise and I would have to agree. The sequence in which a back-from-the-dead Selina runs rampant in her apartment is one of my favorite scenes of all time. The way she psychotically replays the everyday monotonous routines of the day like feeding your cat or answering the phone is acting genius.

And finally let’s not forget the great Danny DeVito as The Penguin. A character this incredible actor was born to play, DeVito totally immerses himself in the role to the point where any physical or emotional resemblance to the real DeVito is unrecognizable. Thanks to dialogue from the great underrated writer Sam Hamm (who gave us the superb Demolition Man, “What’s your Boggle?”) The Penguin is a solid gold interpretation of pure evil and gives DeVito the role of a lifetime. This detestable villain is actually very human. He longs for the acceptance of his parents and the reparations for years spent abandoned in a sewer. You actually feel sympathy thanks to DeVito’s natural performance and Elfman’s elegant score when Penguin visits his parents grave. You also feel a huge sense of disturbed, morally corrupt, intensity when Penguin begins targeting the first born children of Gotham City’s elite and we see the notorious circus gang snatch innocent children from their cribs. No to mention Penguin hijacks the Batmobile and nearly careens it into an elderly woman and upon his first encounter with Catwoman exclaims – “Just the pussy I’ve been lookin for!”.

Thank you Tim Burton and Michael Keaton and thank you Batman for filling my childhood with violence, mayhem, corruption, manic performances, epic storytelling, Gothic interiors, the never-ending appreciation for Christopher Walken’s speech impediment and fast food toys. I will always cherish thee. In the words of the Penguin “Burn Baby Burn!”.

-John

BREAKING NEWS

During the upcoming week, the editors at Film’s Okay will be focusing on the career and cinematic adventures of Michael Keaton. We wanted it, and several readers seemed to as well. To that we responded:

You wanna get nuts? Come on! Let’s get nuts!!

We also smashed some fine china with a fire place poker to get maximum effect, but realized it was for naught; no one was in the room with us. We now exclusively use paper plates.

– Editor 1/Editor 2/Editor 3

Mach 2 (2001)

Throughout recent film history NFL star players have tried their hand at acting, in the hopes of transmuting their NFL popularity into silver screen stardom. Many of these players are household names to this day, and others just fade into obscurity. This usually happens when it’s finally realized that they have as much acting ability as a piece of granite. Here’s a short list of memorable (or not so) NFL player film appearances:

OJ Simpson – The Naked Gun films

Fred Williamson – The most successful of the bunch with over 100 acting credits

Bubba Smith – The Police Academy movies

Brett Favre – There’s Something About Mary

Dan Marino – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Jim Brown – Any Given Sunday, Mars Attacks & many more

Carl Weathers – Rocky films, Predator & Happy Gilmore

Lawrence Taylor – Any Given Sunday & The Waterboy

Brian Bosworth – Stone Cold

Now of all of those, the Lawrence Taylor cameo in The Waterboy is far and away my favorite. The main reason there is the blatant irony of his appearance speaking to a group of young boys about not smoking crack. Taylor was notorious for rampant drug use throughout his NFL career. He was subsequently busted a few months after the film’s release for, you guessed it, crack cocaine possession. That may have been the funniest thing to occur in any Adam Sandler movie. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is not up there just because he never played in the NFL due to injury, but his acting career in in the stratosphere as he has become a huge box office draw. Most of these are just cameo appearances or supporting roles, but some were starring role attempts. This brings me to the man at the bottom of that list, Brian Bosworth.

Bosworth was a bust as a linebacker in the NFL, but his “colorful” personality should translate well into an acting career….right? His first feature, Stone Cold, was pretty much as big a failure as his NFL career. It’s too bad that using steroids doesn’t make you a better actor. He’s making movies so technically he has a career, but the quality is seriously lacking. Take Mach 2, for example. Bosworth plays an Air Force officer who can’t fly a plane. That’s only the beginning….

After a successful thwarting of terrorists wearing Wrangler jeans and LL Bean sweaters, Jack Tyree (Bosworth) is assigned to protect a presidential nominee on a hostage negotiation trip to The Balkans while aboard a Concorde jet. It seems every exterior shot of the Concorde jet was stolen from Airport ‘79. Using public domain stock footage is one thing, but stealing part of another movie to use as as your own is pretty low. What was shot originally for Mach 2 was done so in Burbank, California, so I suppose that explains the palm trees at the airport when the plane took off from Washington DC. As an Air Force officer, I would have assumed that Jack Tyree would know how to hold a pistol properly. Bosworth, however, portrays this act by sticking his pinky out like Nathan Lane drinking a cup of tea. Delivering one-liners is a staple of action films. Surely this would be why The Boz is given these acting roles? Bosworth delivers such gems as “Maybe next time he’ll buy a ticket.” (after throwing a terrorist off a train) with as much charisma as a lump of seaweed. They probably would have been better off casting one of Bosworth’s shriveled testicles in the lead role here (Adult Swim is already working on the series).

Michael Dorn, who will forever be known to me as Lt. Warf from Star Trek: The Next Generation, shows up on the plane as Secret Service. Soon, Warf and his partners highjack the plane, kill the pilots, steal some top secret intel and leave the the passengers for dead. A Skydiving sequence ensues, though there is not actual footage of the skydive since they have no external shots of the plane that weren’t stolen. So the bad guys jump out of the plane and immediately appear in a car on the ground being chased by French police, who apparently are armed with bazookas.

Who could be responsible for this joke of a film? His name is Fred Olen Ray. You may be familiar with his B movie schlock if you ever watched USA’s Up All Night or Monstervision on TNT in the 1990’s. Ray has at least 8 different director aliases, so you may have seen one of his movies and not even known it. He’s directed over 120 films, at least 16 of these have the word “Bikini” in the title. The guy obviously knows what he’s doing, as there are too many hilarious moments in here for this to be unplanned. A character surprisingly gets shot and falls backwards onto a piano, which makes the appropriate sound for a shocking turn of events.

This comes really close to falling into the “It’s so bad it’s good” category of movies, but it’s Bosworth, the star of the film who tries to take this too seriously. I’m sure he imagined himself the next Arnold Schwartzenegger, but Arnold has 100 times more onscreen charm than this clown. Still, I laughed my ass off at this movie.

-Wes Kelly

Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

In the history of cinema, has there ever been a more unlikely star and leading man than Danny DeVito? Working within an industry that favors the beautiful, bronzed, and statuesque—a cookie-cutter typecasting machine to be sure—DeVito has managed to carve out a 40 year career between screens both small and large, a rather extraordinary accomplishment given the genetics he inherited. Sporting a bowling ball frame, balding since the ’70s, and barely registering in at 5 feet in height, the actor-producer-director triple threat has defied the odds and created a diverse filmography, becoming a bona fide movie star in the process. His films have rung up more than $1.7 million in U.S. box-office receipts, his presence was and is invaluable in two long-running TV shows (Taxi and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and won an Academy Award for his producing efforts. As if this wasn’t enough, and the deck wasn’t already stacked against him, DeVito brings to the table a rather unique, bent, and jet-black comedic sensibilities to several of his most memorable characters; but as a director, he really lets this version of his personality come through, fully embracing his bizarre and often morbid take on life, often times to mixed results. But when DeVito is on, his comedic instincts and timing hit satiric heights typically reserved for Kubrick or the Coen Brothers. Throw Momma from the Train, while not as dark as his later effort Death to Smoochy, is certainly a more well-rounded effort—one that displays a heart and a layer of sweetness despite its caustic premise, serving to balance the proceedings and provide the audience with relatable central characters, allowing them to be in on the joke from the opening moments of the film.

The film follows two struggling screenwriters, one of which, novelist Larry Donner (Billy Crystal), has had some success in the past, but is now rendered impotent—in a writing sense—due to his ex-wife stealing his one great book idea for herself and riding it to fame and wealth. To make ends meet, he decides to take on a teaching gig at a local community college where he meets Owen (Danny DeVito), a timid man who still lives with his abusive and insolent mother (Anne Ramsey). Owen hopes to learn valuable writing skills in Larry’s class; it remains his last creative outlet and a means of escape from the shrill harpy living just one room over. Soon Owen’s rage begins to spill onto the page, he can’t help it, he wants his mom dead, sooner rather than later; she finally pushed him too far. After seeing Strangers on a Train, Owen becomes obsessed with the idea of each man eliminating the other’s problem; he will take out Larry’s ex-wife, and Larry in turn can silence his mother, that way the crimes will seem random—“Crisscross, Larry! Crisscross!”—and the authorities will be unable to connect the threads, allowing both men to live their lives in peace. Larry doesn’t think Owen is serious, he may be weird—maybe even a little crazy—but not capable of murder. However, it turns out that Owen is more determined than Larry previously assessed, and shows back up at his door after tracking down his ex-wife on a cruise ship in Hawaii, saying he now owes him; its time for Larry to eliminate his mom. If he doesn’t come through on the pact that Owen believes Larry to have made, he will have no choice but to report to the police that he believes Larry was responsible. Lacking an alibi, Larry is painted into a corner, and with Owen’s help begins to plan the murder of an old woman. All of which is played for comic effect, of course.

DeVito turns in a performance that is diabolical, and yet, somehow retains a childlike sensibility, which helps to carry the character through the nastier bits of business, emerging unscathed when it comes to crowd reactions. His comic timing is on prominent display; it takes on a slow, steady, deliberate way of building up to his character’s ridiculous behavioral outbursts, maximizing the tension felt by viewers, and the catharsis of laughter that comes along with it. How he was able to create a character that was on the verge of bubbling over with resentment and poison all the while managing to maintain a certain level of innocence has always been a mystery to me; a masterful performance, comedic or otherwise is given here, and it’s a shame that, for the most part, its been lost in the ether of film history. Despite the odd pairing and varying styles between the two, DeVito also exhibits wonderful chemistry with Billy Crystal—an actor that I typical don’t care for—developing a rather odd rapport that works wonders in the framework of the film.

The owner of the showiest role and generating the largest of laughs is Anne Ramsey as Momma. A character actor primarily known for her role as Mama Fratelli in Richard Donner’s The Goonies, her performance here won her an Oscar nomination, a rarity for a performance with a comedic slant. The slurred speech that would help enhance the evilness and hilarity associated with her character was the direct result of surgery to treat the esophageal cancer (she had part of her jaw and tongue removed) that would forever silence her in 1988. Ramsey does a bang-up job of creating a true monster of a woman, enabling DeVito to go “full-tilt” in his performance and allowing Crystal to ratchet up the hysterics to a level that seems appropriate but never overbearing, a problematic balancing act he would encounter in several of his other film roles but nails here with minimal fuss.

With Throw Momma from the Train, DeVito would not only make a twisted, camp classic, but allow his own personality to shine through, creating a unique comic vision drenched in darkness. The actor/director would continue to provide audiences with his own brand of comedy throughout the years, but with the exception of Sunny’sFrank Reynolds, he wouldn’t be able to find that sweet spot again, the perfect blend of the morbid and absurd that makes Owen Lift such a vivid creation.

-David

Multiplicity (1996)

Hats off to Barry for mentioning this film yesterday and inspiring me to take on this cherished comedy in our Michael Keaton-loving circle. As any child of the 80s will tell you, actor/comedian Michael Keaton had just as big an impact on our lives as Pee-Wee Herman, The Simpsons and John Goodman. His iconic starring roles in the first two Batman films and Beetlejuice paved our way to underrated gems like Mr. Mom and The Dream Team. For a time he was one of Hollywood’s biggest box-office stars then took to smaller roles, television appearances and even directed his own feature. He may have faded from general public view but Keaton’s still rockin’ it (see him as the Captain inThe Other Guys) and hopefully has the long-awaited Beetlejuice sequel on the rise.

The quickest way into the heart of any Keaton fan is the mere mention of the criminally underrated 1996 summer box office bomb Multiplicity in which we get not one but FOUR Michael Keatons for the price of one.

Doug Kinney is an LA construction worker struggling to balance his demanding job, career-driven wife and two precocious children. While on a job building the new wing to a science facility, Doug encounters a scientist who just may hold the answer to all of his problems: a method to clone humans. Doug undergoes the operation and is introduced to an exact replica of himself known as Two. Version Two carries an enhanced version of Doug’s business sense (as well as anger issues) and is put in charge of the construction project to allow real Doug more time at home with the kids. Following a disastrous evening preparing dinner and getting the kids ready for football practice and ballet recital; Doug enlists the help of another clone Three, who carries an enhanced version of Doug’s softer more innocent side.

Now Doug’s life seems to be complete with a version of himself to go to work and version of himself to stay at home with the kids, allowing Doug to take some R&R and golf and live the high life. The vacation ends when Two and Three being to wish to live their own respective lives and clone themselves creating the not-so-sharp copy Four. Now Doug has much more than he can handle as the four clones attempt to come together and balance out their shared life in a series of slapstick sitcom-style situations.

Under the whimsical direction of comedy veteran Harold Ramis, Keaton delivers a high-wire performance of comedy perfection. Each version of Doug is completely its own comedy beast. Two is the smooth-talking, sarcastic a-hole Keaton played so well inNight Shift and perfected with the Ray Nicollette character of Jackie Brown and Out of Sight. Three is the neurotic, sweet-nature, borderline annoying Tony Robbins-type. And the challenged Four is just pure comedy gold. To hear Four refers to his privates as “My Pepee”, guzzle down liters of soda or stuff pizza into his wallet is absolutely priceless when coming from Keaton’s charisma. Keaton’s performance is at his best during manic moments, for example the scene in a restaurant where Doug takes his wife to dinner at the same restaurant Two as decided to take his date. Or in the film’s climax in which all four Doug’s manage to have sexual encounters with Doug’s wife (Andie MacDowell) in the same night (“She touched my pepee Steve”).

I’m not sure why the film was such a financial bomb in 96 with its surprisingly upscale effects and comedy appeal, other than the fact that it was released the same summer of Twister, Mission:Impossible, Eraser, Nutty Professor, The Rock, Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. Luckily its spawned a sort of cult following on DVD and I have many a friend who shares the utmost admiration for Michael Keaton comedies.

-John