"How can a man take a bowel movement with a hundred buffalo rifles a-pointin' at 'em ? "
Aaaaah, the big beast. This was Stephen Spielberg's first movie that tanked.
In theory, he did everything right: He'd just directed Jaws and Close Encounters and had the biggest budget he could wish for. Written by Robert Zemeckis and Spielberg himself, he staffed the movie with everything that was funny and good in 1979: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Tim Matheson, Nancy Allan, Ned Beatty, Robert Stack, James Caan, Treat Williams, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, and, er, Mickey Rourke. Music was made nice and bombastically by John Williams, And still, it became one of his biggest stinkers, right alongside Empire of the Sun and the just godawful Hook. How could this be: You had the Blues Brothers, two main protagonists from Animal House and half the original Saturday Night Live collective. So how could this movie ever tank so badly?
Well, it had a crap plot. More than one, actually.
When I went to watch it for the first time in 1982 I expected two truly crappy hours, but was actually quite surprised: if you'd switch off your brain and ignore the slightly racist undertones, this was actually pretty funny. The last thirty minutes were actually positively hilarious. But it was still, well, pretty bad. So what went wrong?
Simply put, the movie didn't have a story. For the first 90 minutes it was just too fractured and uneven to be enjoyable: you would have a couple of hilarious minutes that would then again be interspersed with cringeworthy content and a lot of exploding buildings, mad editing and a very funny John Belushi. What was it about? Well, let me see whether I can remember all subplots. Ok, it is 1941, and California is in a state of hysteria, expecting to be the next Japanese target after their successful attack of Pearl Harbour. And in all this mayhem....
- A japanese submarine crew, led by a SS Officer (Cristopher Lee), kidnaps a redneck to show them the way to Hollywood
- A hapless homemaker (Ned Beatty) gets a flak planted in his garden to protect the coast.
- Two juvenile kitchen hands want to win a dancing contest
- A rogue air force pilot (Belushi) tries to find Japanese invaders
- A smooth Air Force Officer (Matheson) tries to seduce his girlfriend to have sex with him inside a bomber.
- A high ranking General tries to watch Dumbo in peace and quiet.
- Two civil defenders and a dummy hold guard on a Ferris Wheel.
So were most of us. Nevertheless, it all comes together in the end in a gorgeous destruction of miniatures, lavish sets and a couple of vintage airplanes, just to leave us bewildered and thinking: $35,000,000 for this? (In 1978 this was the most expensive film ever made. Sort of a Pluto Nash disaster, just better).
So, should you get out and rent it?