Fox // 1984 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // November 7th, 2002
Organized crime has never been this disorganized!
Director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times At Ridgemont High) borrows a page from Mel Brooks and delivers a knockout spoof of 1930s/'40s Prohibition mobster films. Michael Keaton and Joe Piscopo star as rival gangsters with a bunch of familiar Hollywood mugs rounding out an uproarious supporting cast. Mercilessly skewered by those icehole critics, fans of the film will agree this is one fargin' funny movie.
Johnny Kelly (Michael "I'm Batman" Keaton) is a good Irish Catholic kid, working to support his widowed Ma (Maureen Stapleton -- Bye, Bye, Birdie) and little brother Tommy (Griffin Dunne -- Who's That Girl?) on New York's Lower Eastside. When Ma's health hits the skids, Johnny needs cash to pay the doctor bills. Accepting a job offer from local mob boss Jocko Dundee (Peter Boyle -- Everybody Loves Raymond), the fast-talking, charismatic Johnny rises to prominence within the organization, meeting the girl of his dreams, torch singer Lil (Marilu Henner -- Taxi), and being tapped to take over when Jocko retires. Life is good, right? Wrong! Little Tommy, a recent law school grad, takes a job with the District Attorney's (Danny Devito -- Throw Mama from the Train) office, hell bent on ridding New York of its criminal element. Little does he realize his boss is on the take and his brother is the mysterious kingpin of crime, Johnny Dangerously. Turns out Tommy and Ma are the only two people in New York who are in the dark about Johnny's true profession (it's a comedy -- go with it). When longtime rival Danny Vermin (Joe Piscopo -- Saturday Night Live) stumbles upon this little secret, he sees an opportunity to oust Johnny and take over the Dundee gang. Meanwhile, not wanting to break his family's heart, Johnny decides to go legit, throwing the underworld into madcap chaos.
We all have our guilty pleasures when it comes to movies. One of mine is screwball comedies -- Little Rascals, Abbott & Costello, Three Stooges, Don Knotts, Mel Brooks, etcetera. Johnny Dangerously is definitely a throwback to this genre. Director Amy Heckerling draws on everything from Buster Keaton to Burt Reynolds for this gag fest. While the story may be a bit weak (like we haven't seen this before), it's the running gags -- Ma's bizarre illnesses, Tommy's sexual frustrations, rival crime boss Roman Moroni's butchering of the English language, Lil's obsession with shelf paper -- and multitude of cameos -- Alan Hale (Gilligan's Island), Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian), Dom Deluise (Cannonball Run), Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears Hall of Famer), Bob Eubanks (The Newlywed Game), Joe Flaherty (SCTV), Taylor Negron (what hasn't this guy been in?) -- that make this film so memorable. Even dialogue like Moroni's "fargin iceholes" and Vermin's "Once!" has managed to make its way into the language of American pop culture.
In only his third feature film, Michael Keaton had perfected his quick delivery and suave personality. Johnny Dangerously cemented his role as the Cary Grant of the 1980s and would go onto great success in Beetlejuice before stretching into more dramatic roles. Joe Piscopo, in his film debut, was a hot commodity as one of the stars of Saturday Night Live. But like many of his SNL peers, his film career would be short-lived. Besides, while Piscopo gets second billing, the role of Vermin is rather small and unimpressive. Marilu Henner is good as playing herself, but not much more than that. It's really the supporting cast that gives the film its yucks -- Maureen Stapleton's medically challenged Ma, Griffin Dunne's nobly naïve Tommy, Danny Devito's sexually questioning DA, Richard Dimitri's temperamentally vulgar Moroni, and Sudie Bond's profanely Irish cleaning woman.
From a technical perspective, there isn't a whole lot to talk about. The menus are boring as sin and appear to be nothing more than an afterthought. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is sharp. Crisp, clean, and a fair amount digital caffeine (artifacting and edge enhancement). The colors are warm and the blacks are rock solid. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is effective for dialogue and music (Weird Al does the title track), but the gunfights and explosions lack the ping of more recent films. Then again, nothing here cries out for the 5.1 treatment. The real crime is the lack of bonus features, with Fox tossing the obligatory theatrical trailers in as the only bone. Big freaking deal. A cult classic such as this demands at least a retrospective or "making of." Oh well, at least we now have it on DVD.
At only 90 minutes, it's a quick view and something you can throw in during party to run in the background. It's one of those films that a lot of people have forgotten, but they'll certainly remember once they see it. At $19.99 Johnny Dangerously gets a definite buy recommendation -- always good for a laugh. Like I said, a guilty pleasure.
This court acquits Johnny Dangerously of all criminal wrongdoing, but warns 20th Century Fox to take better care of their beloved catalog titles. Any more occurrences of neglect and this court will put your collective bells in a sling!
Review content copyright © 2002 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailers