Phil Hartman

Greedy (1994, Jonathan Lynn)

Greedy would be a mess if it weren’t so thoughtfully arranged. It’s not good, but it’s definitely intentional. The film opens with Ed Begley Jr. and his family–with Mary Ellen Trainor as his wife–going to his rich uncle’s house for a family gathering. There, the film introduces second-billed Kirk Douglas as the rich uncle and a bunch of people as the other greedy inheritors-to-be.

It also introduces Olivia d’Abo as the young minx living with Douglas. Now, Douglas and d’Abo give the best performances in the film–d’Abo edging out for the best–while everyone else is a caricature. Even Michael J. Fox, who is first-billed but doesn’t come in until fare at least ten or fifteen minutes, is playing a caricature. Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s arc for Fox is atrocious. And poor Nancy Travis is stuck in the caricature of his supporting girlfriend.

Some of the caricatures are funny. Phil Hartman’s hilarious. Jere Burns is not. Begley doesn’t do badly, neither does Joyce Hyser as Burns’s estranged wife. Except the supporting cast doesn’t really matter. There are a lot of them to just be around and be awful when the scene requires it.

Greedy is a funny idea for a movie, but not a funny movie. Director Lynn–wait, I forgot him–he acts in the movie and is better than much of his cast–isn’t enthusiastic about anything in the picture.

It’s not exactly a painful viewing experience, just stunningly trite.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Lynn; written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Tony Lombardo; music by Randy Edelman; production designer, Victoria Paul; produced by Brian Grazer; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Daniel), Kirk Douglas (Uncle Joe), Nancy Travis (Robin), Olivia d’Abo (Molly Richardson), Phil Hartman (Frank), Ed Begley Jr. (Carl), Jere Burns (Glen), Colleen Camp (Patti), Bob Balaban (Ed), Joyce Hyser (Muriel), Mary Ellen Trainor (Nora), Siobhan Fallon (Tina), Kevin McCarthy (Bartlett), Khandi Alexander (Laura) and Jonathan Lynn (Douglas).


Fletch Lives (1989, Michael Ritchie)

Fletch Lives is a dreadful motion picture. Typing out its title, I remember–once again–the filmmakers weren’t even creative enough to come up with a good title. There’s no pun in it, no reference to the film’s narrative–no one ever thinks the character has died only to come back in a surprise. Maybe it’s a newspaper headline reference, but I doubt it. Leon Capetanos’s script is exceptionally dumb and there’s no emphasis on the newspaper the character (played by Chevy Chase) works for.

What’s even more infuriating about Lives is the failure of repeat players. If Chase were the only returning member of the first film’s cast and crew, it might make sense. But the same producers and same director return. They just are incompetent this time around. Director Ritchie in particular fails at transplanting Chase to Louisiana from Los Angeles. There’s nothing Ritchie could have done about the costumes being used too much to mask a lack of story, but he could have made the setting work better. Some of it is bad back drops, but not much.

In the lead, Chase has lost his charm. His character’s mean and cheap and somewhat unintelligent. The supporting cast is awful–Hal Holbrook embarrasses himself, love interests Patricia Kalember and Julianne Phillips are atrocious, returning players Richard Libertini and George Wyner stink. The only good supporting performances are Cleavon Little and R. Lee Ermey.

Lives often feels like a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch of Fletch.

Terrible music too.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Leon Capetanos, based on characters created by Gregory McDonald; director of photography, John McPherson; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Harold Faltermeyer; produced by Alan Greisman and Peter Douglas; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Chevy Chase (Fletch), Hal Holbrook (Hamilton Johnson), Julianne Phillips (Becky Culpepper), R. Lee Ermey (Jimmy Lee Farnsworth), Richard Libertini (Frank Walker), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Ben Dover), Cleavon Little (Calculus Entropy), George Wyner (Marvin Gillet), Patricia Kalember (Amanda Ray Ross), Geoffrey Lewis (KKK Leader), Richard Belzer (Phil) and Phil Hartman (Bly Manager).


Three Amigos (1986, John Landis)

Three Amigos is beautifully made. Whether it’s the silent era Hollywood scenes at the opening, the silent movie in the movie, or the Western the film quickly becomes… it all looks fantastic. Landis even brings in the singing cowboy genre–the scene with the animals accompanying the song is wonderful. The locations desire some credit, but it’s primarily Landis and cinematographer Ronald W. Browne. Amigos‘s style goes a long way towards its success.

The film frequently has stretches without a laugh, at times even deviating to ominous and disturbing. The excellent performances make up for the lazy pace.

Oddly, co-writer, executive producer and top-billed actor Steve Martin is not one of them. Martin is good, but he’s in the middle of a trio of numbskulls. Chevy Chase has more to do as the idiot of the bunch and Martin Short gives the best performance of the three as the secretly intelligent one.

But the best performances in the film are from Alfonso Arau and Tony Plana. Arau is the bad guy and Plana’s his head stooge. From his first frame, Arau is likable. He and Plana get better writing than the three leads, if only because they’re morons. The most successful moments for Martin, Chase and Short tend to be gags.

Joe Mantegna shows up for a hilarious small part, as does Fred Asparagus. Kai Wulff is good as the scary German aviator.

Amigos isn’t great, but it’s pretty darn good. Though Elmer Bernstein’s score is tiresome.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels and Randy Newman; director of photography, Ronald W. Browne; edited by Malcolm Campbell; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Richard Tom Sawyer; produced by George Folsey Jr. and Michaels; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Steve Martin (Lucky Day), Chevy Chase (Dusty Bottoms), Martin Short (Ned Nederlander), Alfonso Arau (El Guapo), Tony Plana (Jefe), Patrice Martinez (Carmen), Philip Gordon (Rodrigo), Kai Wulff (German), Fred Asparagus (Bartender), Jon Lovitz (Morty), Phil Hartman (Sam) and Joe Mantegna (Harry Flugleman).


Small Soldiers (1998, Joe Dante)

I remember liking Small Soldiers the first time I saw it. I was wrong.

This time watching it, all I could think about was how Dante and DreamWorks studio chief Steven Spielberg ignored they had a terrible script.

Of course, Dante still does a good job. He has a fantastic Bride of Frankenstein homage, which brings up the target audience–along with the action figures being effectively voiced by the Spinal Tap and Dirty Dozen casts.

The casting has some problems. Kevin Dunn plays Gregory Smith’s father (prepping for Transformers in the distant future no doubt) and he’s really bad. Dunn’s usually good, but his character is just too terribly written for him to work with it. All of the characters are terribly written–except maybe David Cross and Jay Mohr’s characters, who are disposable and funny.

Smith is supposed to be playing a problem teenager–it’s never explained why, but presumably has something to with Dunn’s bad parenting. Smith and Kirsten Dunst are supposed to be fifteen–too young to drive–and they show the real problem. Small Soldiers is a kid’s movie made by people who don’t know how to dumb it down enough.

Dunst’s actually okay. Denis Leary does his schtick. Phil Hartmann’s great. Wendy Schaal is wasted. Dick Miller’s got a good part. Ann Magnuson has some excellent scenes.

It works best as a showcase for outstanding practical and CG effects. Thinking about the movie just hurts one’s head, especially when they get into the science.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; written by Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Marshall Harvey and Michael Thau; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Michael Finnell and Colin Wilson; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Gregory Smith (Alan Abernathy), Kirsten Dunst (Christy Fimple), Phil Hartman (Phil Fimple), Kevin Dunn (Stuart Abernathy), Ann Magnuson (Irene Abernathy), Wendy Schaal (Marion Fimple), David Cross (Irwin Wayfair), Jay Mohr (Larry Benson), Dick Miller (Joe) and Denis Leary (Gil Mars).

Starring Frank Langella (Archer), Tommy Lee Jones (Chip Hazard), Ernest Borgnine (Kip Killagin), Jim Brown (Butch Meathook), Bruce Dern (Link Static), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Gwendy Doll), Christopher Guest (Slamfist / Scratch-It), George Kennedy (Brick Bazooka), Michael McKean (Insaniac / Freakenstein), Christina Ricci (Gwendy Doll), Harry Shearer (Punch-It) and Clint Walker (Nick Nitro).


Last Resort (1986, Zane Buzby)

Last Resort is not a bad movie in any traditional way. It’s incompetent to the degree I don’t understand–nor can I imagine–how Charles Grodin ended up starring in it. Julie Corman–Roger’s wife–produced the film and, maybe, her attention to detail is why it looks like the film shot in Southern California for most of its scenes (it’s set on a tropical island). The water shots, however, appear to have been shot a public beach somewhere. While I’m far from an expert on judging film stock from bad DVD transfers… it looks like Last Resort shot on video (maybe better than half-inch, maybe not) and then got transferred over to film. It looks identical to an episode of “WKRP”–no knocks to the mighty ‘KRP, but it is a famous shot-on-video example. It’s Charles Grodin… maybe he made some bad investments or needed a new house, but I can’t imagine they were paying much….

And then the rest of the cast is interesting both in placing the movie’s “artistic” movement. It’s from the writers of Revenge of the Nerds, which–I’m fairly sure–shot on film, but the cast isn’t quite as first-rate as Nerds. While it was interesting to see Brenda Bakke again (Bakke disappeared in the mid-1990s, never recognized for her outstanding performance on “American Gothic”), I mostly noticed Mario Van Peebles. Bakke’s barely in it and it is funny to wonder if Clint Eastwood screened Last Resort when considering Van Peebles for Heartbreak Ridge, but Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman are in it too. Hartman’s got a lousy restrained role, but Lovitz is actually really funny.

When the movie started, the terrible production quality screamed, but it seemed like a really cheap Charles Grodin vehicle. He had some funny lines, some funny Charles Grodin rants, but then they got to the island and the script stopped making any sense at all. It’s an eighty-four minute movie (the last forty move super fast thank goodness) but I was constantly confused. It’s an exceptional example of incoherent storytelling and general terribleness. It’s the kind of thing “USA Up All Night” played when they ran out of money.

But I do think I’ll read Grodin’s autobiography now, because I need to understand this film… how it was made, how someone got a bank to lend someone else money for this film… I’m perplexed. I mean, I couldn’t turn it off–I had to see it to believe it. It’d have been unimaginable otherwise. It’s a unicorn or something.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Zane Buzby; written by Steve Zacharias and Jeff Buhai; directors of photography, Stephen Katz and Alex Nepomniaschy; edited by Gregory Scherick; music by Steve Nelson and Thom Sharp; produced by Julie Corman; released by Concorde.

Starring Charles Grodin (George Lollar), Robin Pearson Rose (Sheila Lollar), John Ashton (Phil Cocoran), Megan Mullally (Jessica Lollar), Christopher Ames (Brad Lollar), Scott Nemes (Bobby Lollar), Mario Van Peebles (Pino), Jon Lovitz (Bartender), Phil Hartman (Jean-Michel), David Mirkin (Walter Ambrose) and Brenda Bakke (Veroneeka).


Quick Change (1990, Howard Franklin and Bill Murray)

Having seen Bill Murray capital-a act for so long–it’s been ten years now, hasn’t it?–seeing him do Quick Change is a little disconcerting. At times, he’s so mellow, he almost isn’t there. I’ve seen Quick Change five or six times–the first being in the theater at the age of eleven–so I can’t remember if there are any surprises in it. The first act (if Quick Change has acts) hinges on a surprise for the characters, but I can’t tell if the audience is supposed to be fooled. I doubt it. It plays too close to the middle though, allowing for either read, when one or the other would firm Quick Change up a little.

Following the initial bank robbery sequence, which is excellent, mostly because Bob Elliot is so funny–when Bill Murray’s in the clown make-up, he comes his closest to that capital-a acting he likes so much nowadays–Quick Change devolves into a sequences of vignettes with shitty New Yorkers. It’s kind of like After Hours, kind of not (it’s obvious the film’s makers are aware of After Hours though, because Quick Change lifts a comedy beat–I can’t remember where–directly from that film). These vignettes are amusing, occasionally funny, and well acted. Except, at the same time, there’s the side-story with Jason Robards as the police chief on the robbers’ tail, and the romance between Bill Murray and Geena Davis. Davis is fine in most of the film, but during the romance scenes, she’s not and Murray’s better in those scenes than most of the others. Maybe because her character reacts so ludicrously to everything. Quick Change establishes a side reality for itself–one where situations prime for sardonic comment present continuously themselves–so it’s hard to take Davis’s character’s concerns seriously.

Randy Quaid is funny as the third robber, being the center of the film’s funniest sequence (along with Tony Shalhoub), but he really doesn’t do anything in the film except wait around to either say something stupid or do something stupid. The supporting cast is perfect, with Stanley Tucci and Kurtwood Smith standing out… but there’s something missing. Bill Murray and Howard Franklin’s direction is somehow funnier than Murray’s performance, which is an uncommon equation. The film’s a pleasant, occasionally really funny ninety minutes–but its slightness really cuts it down.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Franklin and Bill Murray; screenplay by Franklin, based on the book by Jay Cronley; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Alan Heim; music by Randy Edelman; produced by Robert Greenhut and Murray; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bill Murray (Grimm), Geena Davis (Phyllis), Randy Quaid (Loomis), Jason Robards (Rotzinger), Bob Elliot (Bank Guard), Philip Bosco (Bus Driver), Phil Hartman (Hal Edison), Kathryn Goody (Mrs. Edison), Tony Shalhoub (Cab Driver), Stanley Tucci (Johnny), Victor Argo (Skelton), Gary Howard Klar (Mario), Kurtwood Smith (Russ Crane), Susannah Bianci (Mrs. Russ Crane) and Jamey Sheridan (Mugger).


Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986, Penny Marshall)

I was just reading–today or yesterday–Ken Levine talk about how there are no “balls-out R-rated” comedies with female leads. (His post is here). Jumpin’ Jack Flash is, obviously, a balls-out R-rated comedy starring a woman. Things have obviously changed in the last twenty years, both in film and television–female stand-ups don’t get TV shows and they don’t become movie stars. I missed Whoopi Goldberg’s career when it happened. My mother didn’t like all her swearing. I did see Ghost however, against my will. Goldberg is definitely a comedy star in Jumpin’ Jack Flash because comedy stars rarely have to act and Goldberg does not act in Jack Flash. She’s appealing enough and occasionally funny, but the film’s so dishonest, it’s hard to see past it. Jumpin’ Jack Flash doesn’t set Goldberg up as a sexual being–as in, a person who has had or ever will have, sex. The same thing happens in most of Denzel Washington’s films between 1989 and 2001, maybe later. These actors are starring with mostly white casts and mostly white “romantic” interests and interracial romance doesn’t play well for most white people. Not if conservatives wanted ABC fined extra for having the Desperate Housewife come on to a black football player. So, while she’s spayed and the racial element is ignored, Goldberg still does an all right job… she’s not responsible for the film’s biggest problems.

The premise of Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a bank worker who communicates with a spy over her computer–this film is from 1986, so just imagine the computers–and gets involved in espionage. They communicate by typing. During the second half of the film, once Goldberg’s heard the spy’s voice, his lines are spoken as they pop up on the computer screen. There’s one great scene when Goldberg isn’t looking at her screen and she still knows he’s typing, because she can hear his voice. Oh… maybe that scene’s not great. It’s a good example, however, of Jumpin’ Jack Flash’s direction. It’s directed by Penny Marshall and I’m using directed in the nicest way possible. Marshall had only had sitcom experience at this point in her… career and it shows. The film lacks any visual interest and, during the most action-orientated scenes, Jumpin’ Jack Flash becomes the antonym for exciting.

So, while Marshall did the film no good, whoever casted it did wonders. John Wood has some great scenes, so does Stephen Collins. The supporting cast features no standout performances, but it’s a laundry list of famous people-to-be: Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Jeroen Krabbé, Jim Belushi, Tracey Ullman and Jamey Sheridan. Very few scenes went by without me recognizing someone. So, however casted it, that person did a good job. Probably the best job in the movie… Because whoever decided to conclude the romance between Goldberg and her (white) spy without a) a kiss or b) hand-holding… Well, that person didn’t do a good job.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Penny Marshall; screenplay by David Franzoni, J.W. Melville, Patricia Irving and Chris Thompson, based on a story by Franzoni; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Thomas Newman; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Whoopi Goldberg (Terry Dolittle), Stephen Collins (Marty Phillips), John Wood (Jeremy Talbott), Carol Kane (Cynthia), Annie Potts (Liz Carlson), Peter Michael Goetz (James Page), Roscoe Lee Browne (Archer Lincoln), Sara Botsford (Lady Sarah Billings), Jeroen Krabbé (Mark Van Meter), Vyto Ruginis (Carl), Jonathan Pryce (Jack), Tony Hendra (Hunter), Jon Lovitz (Doug) and Phil Hartman (Fred).

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