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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