Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brain Donors

Brain Donors (Dennis Dugan, 1992) This one had been shuffled to the back-burners of my mind.  I remember it being released and that it was a zany comedy featuring, of all people, John Turturro.  But, in the training class I was in, my love of movies "got around," and intense discussions of films, past and present, started dominating break conversations.  One of my fellow trainees, with an "intense" collection of DVD's—mostly Criterion foreign films—asked if I'd seen Brain Donors (mostly because of my "off" sense of humor), and, no, I hadn't.  It sounded dumb, but funny and a rare DVD was exchanged.

Writer Pat Proft had done quite a bit of work with the Zucker Brothers on the "Naked Gun," and "Hot Shots" series (and, lest we forget, he also wrote the "Star Wars Holiday Special") and they helped produce this weird comedy hybrid of Monty Python and the Brothers Marx and the Stooges Three, but primarily the Marxian doctrine of being insane in an unfair, yet sane world.  Based somewhat on A Night at the Opera (which is acknowledged in the credits), it's about three misfits—lawyer Roland T. Flakfizer (Turturro), Jacques (Bob Nelson) and Rocco Melonchek (Mel Smith)—who conspire to run a ballet company under the nose of the patron's lawyer, who has designs on the rest of the recently-deceased man's estate (not that Flakfizer's motives are any more pure).  

It's hit-and-miss, scatter-shot and ADHD-paced, acknowledging its roots, while also being more of a piece than Proft's other parody films.  Turturro is so aggressively trying to be funnyGroucho was always a much-easier performer—you can almost hear tires screech when he turns a comedic corner, and the other performers—Smith, as a rough Australian, amiably plays 'the ethnic," ala Chico, and Nelson, who manages to straddle the "Harpo" fields of anticness and sweetness—manage to maintain the integrity of their characters, while choreographing around each other very nimbly and at top speed.

For recycled material, it's not bad, although much more ribald than the Marx Brothers could suggest (and thereby seeming less clever).  But, although the story is very familiar, the deviltry (as with the Marxes) is in the details, and there's more than enough cleverness among the witlessness to make it worth watching.  It does generate several laughs.

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