WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…

By Marc S. Sanders

Two years after my family and I moved from New Jersey to Florida, I was age 16 and still felt lonely. Very lonely.  I was not prepared for the culture shock of leaving a primarily Jewish community and transitioning into a mixed bag of different cultures and mentalities.  I couldn’t adjust and the only people I could understand in 1989 were Batman, Indiana Jones and Harry & Sally.

The script written for When Harry Met Sally… focuses on the title characters adjusting to life in the decade following college graduation, where their paths cross periodically and they debate the aftermath of Casablanca, as well as what it means to sleep with someone or not.  More importantly, they are often returning their attention to whether a man and a woman can be friends without any temptation for love or intimacy, no matter how attractive they find each other to be.  Boy oh boy, that’s a loaded observation, isn’t it?  It is so consuming that as close as Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) become with one another as best friends, no matter how many people they date, they still couldn’t be any lonelier.  At the time, I could understand their dilemma.  I had a terrible crush on a girl at school. We were close friends who could laugh with each other.  Yet, I never took it to the next step.  I should have asked her to the homecoming dance in our sophomore year.  I really should have.  The risk, though, is the change in the comfortable dynamic we had.  I didn’t want to lose that.  Harry and Sally are attractive to one another.  Rob Reiner includes great close ups of the two actors looking at each other, wondering who is going to make the first move.  Will they bring this relationship to a new level?  It may never happen.  It didn’t for the girl I thought I could fall in love with.  At least Harry and Sally had each other’s shoulders to cry on. I adore this film, directed by Rob Reiner, because I yearned for what they had in friendship first, and as a relationship second.

Sally and Harry couldn’t be any different.  He is of the mindset that any woman he encounters is destined to be slept with, or more simply put, men and women could never be friends because at the bare minimum, men are thinking about sleeping with every woman they come across.  Sally can’t understand that, but when Harry shares his philosophy with her the first time they meet, while on an 18-hour drive from the University of Chicago to New York City, she can’t help but suspect that it just might be possible.

The two depart from one another to start their new lives in the big city, and come across each other five years after that on a flight they inadvertantly share, and then another five years later when they are given an opportunity to catch up on their relationship status.  In present day, 1988, Sally has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend.  Harry has gotten a divorce.  Ephron has written these characters to ultimately need one another.

When Harry Met Sally… is certainly a comedy, but more than likely it’s because Billy Crystal’s quick wit and delivery comes off familiar from his other career accomplishments.  Meg Ryan works beautifully as a scene partner that debates Harry’s cynical view of people with Sally’s natural positivity.  Their mentalities go in opposite directions, but the film continues to imply that these two couldn’t be more perfect for one another.  Chalk that up to Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal’s chemistry.  They are one of the all-time great on-screen couples.  These two actors are my friends.  I want it to work out for them.  When I saw the film three times in the theatres, I wanted to experience what they experienced.  Their story has bumps in the road.  They get mad and upset with each other.  They debate with one another, but they amuse one another too, and what a romantic adventure they share together.

A terrific novelty of Reiner’s film is when he cuts away to elderly couples with rich histories of how they met and stay together for decades after.  We weren’t there to see these wonderful people kindle their relationships, but we’ll see how Harry and Sally come together.  I remember long ago, that my father told me that when you get married, make sure you are marrying your best friend.  He said love is important, but you have to like each other first.  I did marry my best friend and I like her.  I love her too.  We drive each other crazy.  We have very different interests.  We even live in our home differently, that we share with our daughter and dog, but we want to be with each other and no one else.  No one else factors.  When you watch When Harry Met Sally… you see why two people continue to be with each other, first as friends, and maybe as lovers later.  When you have a best friend in your life there’s no one else you want to laugh with or cry with more often than that person.  There’s no other hand you want to hold.

A brilliant midway scene in the film occurs when Harry and Sally have the misguided idea of setting up their other best friends with each other.  Harry’s buddy Jess (Bruno Kirby) may be a good fit for Sally.  They are both writers, after all.  Sally’s girlfriend Marie (Carrie Fisher) has a keen interest in conquering married men, not far off from how Harry routinely proceeds with one relationship after another by sleeping with the women he dates.  He’s not in love with them, but of course he’ll sleep with them.  The irony comes when both Harry and Sally could never fathom that Jess and Marie find each other attractive, not the ones they were originally intended for.

There’s much heightened romanticism to When Harry Met Sally… I won’t claim it to be very realistic with how life works out for many of us.  Look at the famous deli scene where Meg Ryan demonstrates for Crystal’s character that a woman can convincingly fake an orgasm.  It’s a hilarious scene.  One for the ages.  However, a scene like that wouldn’t happen.  If a scene like that did occur in real life, the woman would be asked to leave the premises immediately.  It’s not the point though. 

Love and happiness should consist of elevating ourselves to a delightful fantasy of joy, affection and laughter.  Love should also guide us to carry our best friends through sadness and frustration.  We can’t survive this challenge, we call life, alone.  I realized that first hand when my innocent, naïve and unsure teenage self watched the movie for the first time all those years ago at the Mission Bell movie theatre in Tampa. 

People need someone to grow with.  We need someone to continue to teach us while we teach them in return.  Most importantly, as it becomes a running theme in When Harry Met Sally…, we need someone to kiss at midnight every New Year’s Eve. 

CADDYSHACK

By Marc S. Sanders

Do you think in 10 years or even 50 years from now, people will remember that Harold Ramis was one of the funniest writers in film history? Animal House, Stripes, Scrooged, Groundhog Day (I hate it, but I won’t deny its legacy every February 2nd), and Ghostbusters. One film that cemented the stage for his success in the 1980s is arguably Caddyshack, which focuses on the snobs vs slobs at a high-end golf country club known as…ahem…Bushwood. It’s okay to laugh. Your mother is not in the room.

Caddyshack is more or less a vehicle for the comedic talents of Saturday Night Live players to put out their best material seemingly made up on the fly. Bill Murray is the demented grounds keeper tasked with getting rid of a damaging gopher. Chevy Chase seems to be the charmer with a delivery of wit in every word he says. He’s more or less good looking here but just as deliberately stupid as everyone else. Rodney Dangerfield goes beyond his stand-up routines, or maybe he doesn’t. He’s just shoved into the film and let loose to anger and harass the head snob, Ted Knight. Knight is unquestionably the best of the bunch here. He’s got such great timing with his outbursts and delivery. I even love how he pronounces the car maker Audi. It’s more like “ottie.”

Ramis has a thin storyline about one caddy (Michael O’Keefe) trying to win a college scholarship. Meh. So what! Caddyshack works best when it’s just playing for skits and raw laughs. There’s gross out comedy like doodie in the swimming pool, compliments of a Baby Ruth candy bar, and vomiting in cars. Dangerfield’s one liners are fast and loose. The judge’s daughter is a sly minx for the dweeby male cast to ogle, and the gopher footage with Murray is straight out of Looney Toons. I do love the irony of the Catholic priest going out to play 9 holes in the middle of an electrical storm; a prophet who will spit in the face of God. “OH RAT FARTS!!!!”

Caddyshack is not my favorite of Ramis’ films, but it’s become a touchstone in comedy quotes and repeat viewings. It’s stupid and coarse and silly and belongs nowhere in the Parthenon of great filmmaking efforts but it’s a favorite of almost anyone’s for how brash it truly is. It’s an R rated interpretation of The Three Stooges. If not for nothing, I’m sure that somewhere there is an esteemed judge of the cloth who was proud to sentence young men to the gas chamber as a means of “owing it to them.”

Harold Ramis with co-writer Brian Doyle Murray (Bill’s brother) conceived of Caddyshack as a push back against that system of order. Well done, men. Tee up!

MEAN GIRLS

By Marc S. Sanders

I say it again, unless it is a Quentin Tarantino film, it’s all about the characters, people!!!!!

Take Lindsay Lohan’s character Cady, just returning from living in the wilds of Africa, only to arrive at a much more treacherous natural habitat, High School!!!! Cady quickly learns who belongs with what crowd but she is challenged to learn where she belongs, or who she’s welcome to be with, or how to respond, or who to trust. Tina Fey’s brilliant (should have been Oscar nominated) screenplay, Mean Girls, makes it all so confusing for our protagonist, as well as the clique known as “The Plastics,” and even the teaching staff. Tina Fey conveys important lessons in identity while never forgetting to laugh at the story’s agenda.

“We will stay here all night.”

“We have to dismiss them at 4.”

“We will stay here until 4.”

Great portrayals abound from Lacey Chabert as an insecure Plastics follower, Amanda Seyfried hilariously emoting stupidity in the best way possible (she’s psychic because her boobs can tell when it is raining), and especially Rachel McAdams who never compromises the coldness of Regina George, the MEANEST GIRL at school.

McAdams is great at any range from showing screaming fits with ease to completely owning the duplicity of Regina. She makes this mean girl dangerously intelligent and all together deceitful.

I recall declaring this film being one of the best pictures of 2004. I haven’t changed my mind on that observation. It’s hard to find a script thinking three steps ahead of itself. Cady makes a choice and the consequences won’t translate for another 30 minutes or so. Everything circles back on itself. No thread is left hanging and thus you are treated to a character arc – the spine of the best stories in any medium.

Bravo Tina Fey.

AIRPLANE!

By Marc S. Sanders

Having finally shown my 12-year-old daughter one of the greatest comedies of all time, the disaster film spoof, Airplane!, lo and behold, what do I realize? I uncover gags that I had never noticed in the zillions of times I had seen the movie before. Did any of you notice the ice cream cone amid all of the reporters’ microphones, or that Captain Ouever (a very straight-maybe not so straight-Peter Graves) flipping through a men’s magazine called “Men’s Sperm Monthly” from the “Whacker Material” section of an airport magazine rack?

That’s the beauty of this film. You see something new every single time. EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!! I swear Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker are secretly editing my DVD copy and inserting new gags into the film. Nothing comes close to matching the slapsticky, spoof magic of Airplane! Countless films were skewered to ridiculous levels of far-reaching hilarity ranging from Airport, (of course) to From Here To Eternity and Saturday Night Fever. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is the film’s first casualty.

The picture is stitched together with former fighter pilot Ted Stryker (Robert Hays) pining to rekindle his romance with airline stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty). Ted buys a literal “smoking” ticket on Elaine’s next flight to mend things with her (my god, I’m hearing the deliberately sappy string music in my head as I write this), but unfortunately many of the passengers and the pilots ate fish for dinner and now the plane is destined for doom. (Cue the “doom music.”)

The beauty of the film is that no one aims to announce the joke. Every cast member, including Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, plus Otto The Automatic Pilot plays it straight, never announcing the joke and sending the punchline into the rafters. If you’re serious while looking ridiculous to everyone else…well then that’s funny. Surely, a film like Airplane! can’t be serious, only don’t call me Shirley.

Airplane! still holds up after forty years. It had such a way about it that had never been done before. Disaster films were in abundance by the end of the ‘70s. Disco music was becoming cheesy to the greater populace. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker had to respond to these trappings. Airplane! upended everything done before.

Heck you could be bed ridden in a big building with patients and die laughing at Airplane! but that’s not important right now.

NOTE: Ever notice the propeller sound of the multi engine plane or have you truly figured out where some of the film’s all time classic lines come from? If not, then find the disaster flick Zero Hour! You’ll be amazed at the inspiration that film gifted to “Airplane!”

Zero Hour! is sometimes shown on Turner Classics. Be sure to check it out.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Boots Riley
Cast: LaKeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick
My Rating: 6/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 93% Certified Fresh

PLOT: In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a universe of greed.


[Author’s Note: In my mind, it’s virtually impossible to discuss Sorry to Bother You without making comparisons to Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us.  But I will give it the old college try…]


Boots Riley’s directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You, has been described by Riley himself as an absurdist dark comedy combined with magical realism and science fiction.  Talk about your genre mashups.  While other directors have proven this kind of filmmaking is not only possible but profitable (Being John Malkovich [1999], Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004]), Riley’s film feels like he bit off a little more than he could chew.  After it was over, instead of feeling like I had seen something groundbreaking and provocative, I felt like I had just sat through an ambitious student film.  At some point, it lost its way.

Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) is an underachiever with an improbably gorgeous girlfriend named Detroit (Tessa Thompson), a performance artist who specializes in the kind of art that involves water balloons, spent bullet casings, and recitations from The Last Dragon (1985).  All righty, then.  Cassius is hired as a telemarketer at a company where the fact that he falsified his résumé and brought in fake trophies shows initiative.  On his first day on the job, the film shows flashes of promise.  As he makes the calls, his workstation magically drops into the homes of the people he’s calling, a perfect representation of the intrusion these callers make.  After repeated failures, an old-timer named Langston (an underused Danny Glover) gives him a tip: Use your white voice.  “I’m not talking about Will Smith-white.  That’s just proper.”  Now THAT’S funny.

So Cassius starts using a white voice (overdubbed by David Cross) on his calls, and wouldn’t you know it, he becomes the highest-selling telemarketer on the sales floor.  This is not fantasy, as far as I’m concerned.  I recently watched a documentary where a Latino man submitted hundreds of résumés while job hunting with no responses.  In desperation, he changed his name on his résumé from “Jose” to “Joseph.”  Presto…the calls started rolling in.  True story.

Anyway, Cassius gets a promotion and is moved upstairs to be a “Power Caller.”  Meanwhile, the other telemarketers organize and strike for better wages, so Cassius is derided as a scab every time he comes to work.  But then he discovers what he’s actually selling as a Power Caller.  It has something to do with a company called WorryFree, a system whereby workers sign a lifetime contract to live and work in a single communal location with no paychecks.  One of their slogans is, “If you worked here, you’d be home now!”

WorryFree is run by Steve Lift, played by Armie Hammer at his smarmy best.  In the movie’s most pointed satirical moment, Lift invites Cassius to a party where he goads Cassius into rapping for his party guests.  “Come on, you’re from Oakland, I refuse to believe you don’t know how to rap!”  Cassius tries some feeble rhymes, and then he realizes exactly what Lift and his party guests want to hear.  His solution is controversial, provocative, and hilarious.  I won’t spoil it for you…it’s the high point of the film.

Meanwhile, there are other scenes involving the strike, the strikers, an underground movement called Left Eye, a Claymation sequence, horses, and a nearly-naked Detroit wearing a costume that looks inspired by Janet Jackson’s infamous Rolling Stone cover shoot.  It’s all a little haphazard and cluttered and unfocused.

I believe this movie has a point.  I think it comes closest to MAKING its point when it deals specifically with how the telemarketing company and Steve Lift plan to transform their workforce to increase profits, and with how Cassius deals with the conflict between his steadily increasing paychecks and his moral conscience.  But in between those scenes are myriad other plotlines and side notes that were merely distracting rather than world-building.  (For example, did we really need those scenes where Detroit may or may not get involved with another man?  Was it necessary for Steve Lift’s party to devolve into an Eyes Wide Shut situation?  And in the name of M. Night Shyamalan…was that ending really necessary?)

Sorry to Bother You seems to have struck a chord with many viewers.  I am not one of them.  After it was over, I found it impossible not to compare it to other recent films like Get Out, Us, or even BlacKkKlansman.  Those films found their through lines, made their points, AND were also massively entertaining.  Sorry to Bother You feels like it fell short of the finish line with those goals in sight.

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE

By Marc S. Sanders

When a film opens with two students walking across a college campus as the classical horn music of proud alumni accompany them, and then one of the students stops to pull up his fly, you know you are probably in for a contrast of ideals.

Animal House set a new standard in comedy featuring a John Belushi whose expressions and improvisations appeared too fast for the camera to catch everything he’s doing. The script never gave him much dialogue because his routines of smashing beer bottles, smashing guitars, smashing beer cans and just getting smashed merited no dialogue. He might have looked like a dirty slob, but he was a craftsman of facial expressions.

Every scene of Animal House plays like an episode of an ongoing sitcom; a raunchy one at that. A dead horse, a pledge ceremony, a toga party, a sabotaged parade, and a food fight. Each topic is the title of a sitcom’s various episodes.

John Landis directed the snobs vs slobs script co-written by Harold Ramis, and 40 years later the material still holds up. Then again, 40 years later, I wonder if this film would even get made. I’d rather not dwell on that.

What I do know is that this movie is still funny. Outrageously funny.


CLERKS

By Marc S. Sanders

Did Kevin Smith know he’d create a lasting cultural phenomenon when he recruited his neighborhood friends to depict the mundane life of a convenience store clerk (Dante) and video store clerk (Randall)? How could he? He made this very shoestring budgeted movie by maxing out his credit cards. He’s on a short list of entrepreneurs who went all in. Bravo!

Clerks is a film that doesn’t seem to say much, but actually says a lot by the time it’s finished. Smith wrote a script where Dante mulls over how hard it is to move on, to change and accept the fact that even his ex-girlfriend moved on to get married, while he’s nothing but number 37 on his current girlfriend’s oral conquests. It’s a challenge as he and Randall debate over the accomplishments of Star Wars films. Then there are the eccentric customers like Smith’s friend Walt Flanigan (of Comic Book Men) as a guy looking for the perfect dozen eggs, or another one offended by the harsh language of a couple of bored clerks.

On paper, this all looks ordinary and boring. Yet, that’s the point. It’s fair to say we have all experienced the boredom of work with no definitive vision of a future. So, we complain about how we are not supposed to be there on our day off, or that the most important, immediate need is participating in a Saturday afternoon hockey game. Since we gotta work, we’ll compromise. If we can’t leave work, we will move the game to the roof of the store.

Two legendary cinematic characters also debuted, Jay & Silent Bob (Jason Mewes & Smith). They just lean against a wall, smoke and do not much else. Still, they offer atmosphere. There’s always loiterers mulling around a 7-11 or Circle K. They have stories as well, but we will likely never know. They just cross our paths as we pick up a soda. Smith wrote these guys as anybody we’d recognize and who we’re familiar with.

Kudos to Kevin Smith for following through with Clerks. This doesn’t look like much of anything, but it’s everything.

STRIPES

By Marc S. Sanders

A trifecta of talent was widely received when Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman came on the Hollywood scene. With films like Meatballs and Animal House, they were toeing the line of B movie T&A material. Audiences, however, responded to the wisdom in the comedic potential of disregarding the authoritative party. That is especially true in their R rated army romp from 1981, Stripes.

Stripes is arguably not their most memorable film of any of their careers, but for me it is probably my favorite; more than Caddyshack or Ghostbusters. The comedy was spot on, and the timing was perfect. When John Winger and Russell Zisky (Murray & Ramis) decide to enlist in the army on a spur of the moment, their basic training experience is actually believable. It could happen. I could relate. If I was as big a guy as John Candy, playing the lovable “Ox,” and I was running the obstacle course, yeah…I might run off course uncontrollably into the outer woods. All these guys are completely out of shape. There’s no way we were ever gonna see Rambo here.

Bill Murray might be the leader of this rag tag gang of miscreants, but his own material is just very, very funny. Few comedies have such a hilarious opening scene as he does while he escorts a snobby woman to the airport in his cab. He has enough of her, and so everything is put out on the table. The Three Stooges would have smacked a pie in this woman’s face. John Winger decides to terrify her with some action photos while he drives. To date, no one has ever come close to duplicating this scene.

Winger continues with his rebellion against his Drill Sargent played by Warren Oates who is terrific in his own right. Oates convincingly comes off as straight army material amid all of these nitwits. He can give a facial expression that says a thousand words.

John Candy is a huge highlight in perhaps his breakthrough cinematic performance. Ramis and Reitman wrote a great character in Ox. I think it’s hilarious that a fat guy thinks the most ideal way to lose weight is to join the army because it’s free with a six to eight week work program. We all love to see that it eventually occurs to Ox that basic training in the Army is not exactly a weight watchers program. A major highlight is when Winger rushes Ox into a mud wrestling ring at an adult club. Pure slapstick fun. You can’t help but laugh.

I’m surprised to see that many took issue with the film’s second half. I loved it as the platoon has to pursue Winger and Ziskey who have a special puke green colored RV that the army has engineered with more weaponry than a James Bond car. Eventually, this leads to a ridiculous rescue within a Russian occupied Czechoslovakian outpost. It’s a great blend of action and comedy that holds up nearly 40 years later. What’s not to like?

I’ll be honest. I saw Stripes when I was 10 or 11, and it actually gave me an education on the current life of what it’s like to be in the Army. Having never enlisted, I’m nevertheless convinced that Warren Oates was an accurate interpretation of what a hard driven Drill Sargeant was like. Because it seemed so genuine. It seemed only fitting that a great comedy could be drawn from resisting that kind of authority. The material in Stripes didn’t come off silly or Looney Tunes like. It all seemed natural. The jokes just came alive amid the challenges of entering the Army life.

Stripes remains a favorite comedy of mine.

CLUE

By Marc S. Sanders

The players:

Mr. Green – Michael McKean

Mrs. Peacock – Eileen Brennan

Miss Scarlett – Leslie Ann Warren

Colonel Mustard – Martin Mull

Mrs. White – Madeline Kahn

Professor Plum – Christopher Lloyd

With Wadsworth the Butler (Tim Curry) who “Buttles!” and Yvette the Maid (Colleen Camp).

The roles and who portrays them are the most important thing to follow in the film adaptation of the board game Clue. After that, it’s the ridiculous farce. Motivations and vague connections among the characters are spit out with rapidity by Curry’s zany Wadsworth, the buttler Butler. He’s the real star of the show but every actor makes their own variation of hilarity.

All of them have been summoned for dinner on a dark and stormy night at Mr. Boddy’s mansion. They have been specifically instructed to identify themselves by the colorful moniker documented in their invitations. None of them know each other or Mr. Boddy. Or do they????? Hmmmm!!!

Once they are there, dinner is served accompanied by Yvette’s physical attributes that express themselves quite well in her French Maid’s uniform. Soon after, the board game’s well known weapons (lead pipe, candlestick, revolver, wrench and so on) present themselves and then Boddy turns up dead in the library. Naturally, the players must explore the other well known rooms in the creepy mansion including the kitchen, the billiard room and conservatory to uncover what’s happened…even though he’s dead in the library already.

Eventually, and because the film is fast approaching it’s 90 minute mark, Wadsworth begins to manically explain who the murderer is and how and where it was done. Oh yeah! Other unfortunates have turned up dead as well, including a policeman and a singing telegram.

Clue is on the zany level of Airplane! and The Naked Gun. John Landis co-wrote the film with director Jonathan Lynn and honestly, they could not do anything wrong with the picture as long as they kept everything completely stupid for the sake of comedy. All of the players lend to that ridiculousness going so far as to even pose with the dead corpses to mask the fact that they are truly expired. No matter that the cook has a dagger in her back.

The famous board game is rightly honored even with the square tiled floor in the hall and the secret passages that connect the rooms. Agatha Christie mysteries are targets though too. The assembly of these legendary comedians, who were all pretty much established by the time Clue was released in 1985, know how to find one of Christie’s personality suspects and springboard off of that for great gags.

Look, best I can tell you is don’t pay much attention to whatever motives are rambled about. The visuals are what’s important. Watch how ridiculous Tim Curry gets as he tries to keep this game all in order. Though a sense of order should never be expected. You’ll realize that early on after the Butler accidentally steps in dog poop, and the most important thing over the next five minutes is watching each player sniff for what is that awful aroma. It sounds silly. It sounds immature, but that’s what is specifically fun about the film.

EASY MONEY

By Marc S. Sanders

Monty Capuletti is played by Rodney Dangerfield in the comedy Easy Money. The name of the role is just there for script purposes really. This is basically just Rodney playing Rodney, and had he been in more scenes, this film would have been one of the all-time great comedies. It really would have been legendary. Unfortunately, it suffers from a side story that generates no laughs and bogs the picture down to a screeching halt.

Monty is a baby photographer, and I can’t think of a better or more appropriate occupation for Rodney Dangerfield to play for some easy, gut busting laughs. Let that sink in for a moment. Rodney Dangerfield…as a…baby photographer! I couldn’t contain myself when he was trying to get a plump toddler to sit still and finally unleashes a tirade of inappropriate expletives. Comedy works best when one party is tainted by another.

Monty drinks, smokes, gambles, overeats and often visits the local strip joints with his best pal, Nicky Cerone (a perfect partnership with Joe Pesci). His hoity mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald) has never approved of her daughter’s (Candice Azzara) marriage to this offensive slob. When mother passes away, she leaves Monty her ten-million-dollar furniture store enterprise to him, but only if he gives up on all of his habits as well as loses some weight. This is a perfect set up for a Rodney Dangerfield movie. Unfortunately, it does not go far enough with the gags.

The first thirty minutes are comedy gold as we see Monty and Nicky going from one moment of debauchery to the next. When they lose big on the horse races, I about died watching Nicky take to the field to punch out the rider. When they pick up the wedding cake for Monty’s daughter’s wedding and wedge it into the back of Nicky’s plumbing van next to the toilet, I had to pause the film to catch my breath and finish laughing. Plus, think for a moment of what’s gonna happen to that cake before the night is done. It’s more hilarious than you could possibly imagine. The first thirty minutes paint a perfect picture of Monty and his terrible ways.

When the turning point happens after Mother dies, the remaining hour only generates a handful of memorable moments. The film diverts to Jennifer Jason Leigh as Monty’s daughter who has now married a greasy gang member eager to take her virginity. She leaves the jerk on her wedding night and the film takes up too much time with the guy trying win her back. Dangerfield is not in much of this storyline, nor is Leigh. It focuses way too much on a boring performance from actor Taylor Negron as the jilted groom who is not funny in any way. As well, his selection of scenes come off unfinished at times. The groom, Julio, climbs to the outside of the second story of the house one night and falls off the pipe he’s holding on to, but you never see his reaction or where he lands. In Tom & Jerry cartoons, you were always treated to the aftermath of the fall or the big bang where little birds flew around poor Tom’s head. Did the editors just fall asleep in post?

The wedding ceremony at church and the reception in the fenced in New Jersey backyard? Now that’s funny. Really funny. Just look at the outfits for one thing. Purple tuxedos for the groomsmen. Lime green dresses for the bridesmaids and the inevitable overly, emotional, tears of joy family member who just won’t shut up. It’s a perfect tempo for laughs. I’m laughing as I recall this moment. The Italian gathering of hundreds of people dancing in a perfect overhead shot of a crammed in backyard is an absolute contrast to the elegance you’ll find in The Godfather.

Monty’s struggle with giving up on his unhealthy lifestyle is not touched upon enough and I can’t understand why. The door was wide open for these moments. Imagine Monty at an AA meeting or an Overeaters Anonymous gathering. Opportunities were missed in Easy Money. A perfect set up with not enough of an execution. I was ready to declare this film as Rodney’s best (better than Caddyshack or Back To School) but then the last hour settled in.

Easy Money is not a terrible movie. Far from it. It just could have been so much more. Watch the first thirty minutes, and then turn on Back To School to feel fulfilled.