Quick Movie Review: Foul Play (1978)

I added this flick to my Instant Netflix queue for one reason: it’s a Chevy Chase movie I hadn’t seen. Sure, there’s probably lots of his movies I haven’t seen, but this is vintage Chevy from right after he left Saturday Night Live and a few years before Caddyshack and Fletch. Plus, Goldie Hawn!

As it turns out, though, this isn’t really Chevy’s movie. He’s in the last quarter or so of it, but the plot revolves around Hawn, who finds herself with a series of assassins after her because of a chance encounter with another killer. The stranger hands her a pack of smokes which she just assumes are regular cigarettes, but they actually contain some kind of secret plans. It’s your basic case of mistaken identity kind of a movie, but even though the plot is familiar there was something about Hawn being the one in the role that made things feel a little more tense.

Maybe it’s because you usually see a man in this kind of part and the Cro-Magnon part of my brain wants to KEEP…GIRL…SAFE. There’s also plenty of scenes with her trying to tell people what’s going on and no one believes her either because the evidence is no longer there (the guy who gave her the smokes dies in a movie theater, but while she runs out to tell the manager, someone moves the body) or because the whole thing just sounds so crazy (a dwarf might be after her and a huge albino definitely is). Those kinds of stories always give me the heebee jeebies. Or maybe it was the few drinks I had while watching.

Anyway, I really dug the flick for its weirdness and fantastic cast. In addition to Chase and Hawn, Dudley Moore pops up and turns out to have one of the swankiest and skankiest bachelor pads on film (he’s got a blow-up doll filled with helium), Brian Dennehey plays–here’s a shocker–a cop and Burgess Meredith plays Hawn’s snake-loving, kung-fu-practicing neighbor.

What I love about the movie is how offbeat it is. I went in thinking it would be some kind of romantic comedy. Then some serious stuff starts happening with people trying to hurt or kill Hawn. But then she winds up with Moore and things get amazingly ridiculous. After that it gets serious for moments, but never loses it’s quirky, funny charm. Even Chase doesn’t come off in his usual slick guy mode early on in the film when Hawn basically shoots down his Fletch routine. In the end, the flick comes together in a pretty confusing plot that oddly reminded me of one of the Naked Gun flicks, though I can’t remember which one it was (it’s been a while since I saw those movies).

For once a movie not matching up to my expectations (low or nonexistent as they might have been) was actually a pleasant surprise that resulted in a fun, quirky movie I recommend to my fellow Instant Netflix users looking for a fun, offbeat comedy/mystery/adventure.

Dragnet (1987)/Fletch Lives (1989) Double Feature

Today was a pretty busy day. I was thankfully so busy with freelance work that I still haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast I was on, nor was I able to go outside and enjoy the nearly 70-degree weather, but I was able to watch a few movies while I worked. I also got a chance to check out my brand new column on Maxim.com called We Like To Watch, which covers various TV shows you should check out. Anyway, the two movies I watched were Dragnet and Fletch Lives. I had never seen Dragnet before, but a few months ago I picked up a Tom Hanks 2-disc, 3-movie pack featuring Money Pit, The ‘burbs and it. After seeing the video at the end of the review on Maxim.com I figured I’d finally give it a watch.

And man, this is a really weird movie (I should have guessed from the video), but I really enjoyed it. In addition to being a really funny movie (you’ve got prime Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd here), it also plays to my love of continuity. See, I’m not a fan of the original Dragnet, but I do appreciate that Aykroyd plays a relative of the original Joe Friday and that Harry Morgan reprises his role from the original series as now-Captain Gannon. By doing this they’re not dumping on or forgetting the original and it fits in with the rest. Not every adaptation can work like this, but I like when it does (they did something similar with the Sam Jackson Shaft movie). This one turned out to be pretty long, so hit the jump for the whole thing.

Anyway, like I said this is a weird movie. Aykroyd and Hanks are on the trail of this group called P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness And Normalcy) who…well, they’re trying to do a bunch of bad stuff. I’ll be honest, some of the finer details of the movie might have been lost on me while I was working, but I do know that a lot of dudes were dressed up in goat legs while the P.A.G.A.N. leader threw a woman in a big pool with a giant snake. From there, Aykroyd, who plays the super-uptight and by-the-book officer in LA, comes a bit undone as Hanks’ loosened-up-ness rubs off and the case gets crazier and crazier.

One interesting thing about this movie is that it was co-written and directed by Tom Mankiewicz who mostly wrote more serious flicks like Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun along with uncredited runs on the scripts for both Superman and Superman II. Meanwhile, he directed one of my favorite comedies of all time Delirious. I think he’s a big reason the movie has such a fun feel since he;s clearly comfortable in both the action and the funny. And now for the video, which hopefully won’t make you want to NOT watch the movie. I give you Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd rapping:

I come by my love of the Fletch flicks and Chevy Chase honestly thanks to my dad. I distinctly remember renting both Fletches a number of times and watching with him. As I got older I bought both movies on DVD (and I think I might have had them on VHS too, but can’t quite remember). The DVDs are pretty paltry and I can’t believe they went with that weird cover for Fletch Lives with the snapshots instead of this hilarious and awesome poster painting here which I remember from the VHS cover.

Anyway, something about Dragnet made me think of Fletch Lives, I’m guessing it was the bigness of it and something about the P.A.G.A.N. “ritual” reminded me of R. Lee Ermey’s Jimmy Lee Farnsworth shenanigans. Whatever the reason, I had a great time watching Fletch Lives as usual. I’m not sure if someone who’s not a fan of Chase will like the movie, but I’m a huge fan of his characterization of Fletch, a man who uses words to get out of whatever crazy situation he finds himself in and comes out on top (eventually). Plus, he’s a writer so I of course love that. He even makes grammar joke in this one!

The plot finds Fletch heading down south to take over the plantation house his recently deceased aunt left him. As you might expect, things aren’t quite what they appear as Fletch runs into a Bible-themed theme park, someone who wants to buy his land, a dead girl he had sex with (before she died of course, this isn’t Weekend At Bernie’s) and the Ku Klux Klan. There’s a lot going on with the story and I probably would have missed a lot of the details had I not seen the movie a bunch of times.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Fletch or Fletch Lives, just go do it. Right now. If I know, you can even borrow them. I like the movies so much I’ve gone on to read two of the Gregory McDonald books the movies were based on and have two more in my to read pile. On a completely different note, I found out that Fletch Lives director Michael Ritchie also produced and co-directed the weak slasher movie Student Bodies, which is pretty interesting.

You might notice that this post has a Saturday Night Live label on it. In addition to the fact the SNL alumns star in both of these movies, I also wanted to bring up one of the first things I ever noticed about the relationships between movies, actors and directors. That is that any movie starring a current or former SNL cast member usually has another one in at least a bit part. At first, from looking at the Dragnet credits, I thought my theory might have been busted, but it turns out that Dan’s brother Peter not only had bit parts on SNL, he was also a writer. In Fletch Lives, Phil Hartman has a bit part as the man running a lab. So, as far as I’m considered, the theory still stands (but I haven’t watched all of Chevy Chase’s or Bill Murray’s movies, which will surely kill my theory).

Trailer Time: Community and … Dance Flick?

Usually, trailers give me way more than I want. I don’t want to see too many details and scenes, especially important ones that give away too much of the movie. The ad campaigns that really did their job as far as hooking me as someone who didn’t really care at first, but got me more and more excited as the release date got closer and closer were Transformers, Iron Man and the upcoming Star Trek and Terminator Salvation. But then, sometimes trailers come up and surprise you for one reason or another.

Sometimes a trailer surprises you because you had no idea it was even int he works. I’m not the most connected guy when it comes to Hollywood news, but I like to think I stay pretty current on what’s coming out. Well, I was completely surprised when NBC posted the following trailer for an upcoming show called Community starring Joel Mchale and Chevy Chase (yes, FLETCH!!!) and produced, directed or created by someone involved in Arrested Development. Assuming Mchale stays on as the host of The Soup, I don’t see how Community won’t rock my face off.

And then, sometimes a trailer comes along that you fully expect to hate and it actually makes you want to see the movie. I felt that way when I first saw the trailer for Dance Flick. I’m assuming this is being made by the same people who made the sloppy and (from what I’ve heard, I haven’t seen them) awful, Movie Movies (Date, Epic, Scary, etc.). Well, I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve seen most of the goofy dance movies Dance Flick seems to be riffing on, that I have a soft spot for slapstick movies (I love Airplane, Hot Shots and the Naked gun movies) or the fact that it’s actually a quality movie, but this trailer did everything it’s supposed to. First it got me laughing, then it got me laughing harder. I’m not saying it ranks up there with the movies I mentioned above and they probably should have given the movie a more original title to separate this movie (which at least seems to have a more zeroed-in focus as far as what it’s satirizing), but Dance Flick actually looks funny. We shall see though.