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Case Number 05455: Small Claims Court

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Brain Donors

Paramount // 1992 // 79 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // October 26th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle wants you to call him in an hour and tell him what he's talking about.

The Charge

In the tradition of Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges, and the Reagan Administration.

The Case

Brain Donors is a movie about very little, and in this case it's a good thing. The story revolves around Lillian Oglethorpe (Nancy Marchand, The Sopranos) and her quest to produce a ballet company care of her late husband's dying last wish. She hires on the irascible, fast-talking Roland T. Flakfizer (John Turturro, Barton Fink) to head the new ballet company, something he knows very little about (and is hardly willing to learn). Roland is accompanied by his chauffer, Rocco Meloncheck (Mel Smith) and a silent yet very expressional Jacques (Bob Nelson), Lillian's one time manservant (don't ask). These three clowns find themselves locked in a battle of wills with Lazlo (John Savident (Gandhi), one of Lillian's closest confidants who also wants Flakfizer and his pals out of Lillian's pockets! Throw into the mix a couple of star-crossed lovers (Spike Alexander and Juliana Donald) who just want to do ballet together and an egotistical dancing star (George De La Pena, Kuffs) with a grudge the size of Kansas, and you've got yourself a comedy that will leave you in stitches!

I'm about to make a very bold statement: Brain Donors is one of the most underappreciated comedic gems of all time. I know it seems hard to believe—who's even heard of this movie, right? Yet the fact is that if you love to laugh, you simply must see Brain Donors. Here is a movie that has a giggle, chortle, or chuckle packed into almost every nook and cranny of the screenplay, care of Pat Proft (based very loosely on the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera). The film is inspired lunacy, moving at breakneck speed and garnering laughs in the vein ofAirplane! and The Naked Gun.

Brain Donors (originally titled "Lame Ducks," then inexplicably changed before its theatrical release) is not a comedy for those who like Frasier or Annie Hall. It's often crude, stupid, dumb, and above all else, hysterical. The gags range anywhere from lowbrow to no-brow, depending on which scene you're watching. John Turturro plays Roland T. Flakfizer as a fast talking, smooth walkin' ladies man who is always prepared to one-up whoever he comes into contact with (when he meets up with a car accident victim who is unhurt, he squirts him with ketchup and muses "I know what I'm doing"). Mel Smith (who would go on to a much more successful directing career with films like The Tall Guy and Bean) is his yammering, slob of an assistant while silent comedian Bob Nelson plays the Harpo Marx inspired role of Jacques, a man with a limited I.Q. but an endless stream of pianos, handkerchiefs, and rubber balloon animals in his jacket pockets. The rest of the cast is rather inconsequential, save for the late Nancy Marchand as Lillian Oglethorpe, playing her role with an equal mixture of befuddlement and socialite dinginess.

To discuss the plot of Brain Donors is beside the point—I can easily promise you that this won't be a movie you'll watch for sharp character arcs. The story exists for the gags to hang off of; the film jumps from scene to scene so Turturro, Nelson, and Smith can bound into the frame, tear it up, and move on to their next target. A sample of one exchange from the film:

Jacques: Are you Roland T. Flakfizer?
Flakfizer: That all depends. Do I owe you money?
Jacques: No.
Flakfizer: In a drunken stupor, did I promise to marry you?
Jacques: No.
Flakfizer: Then I'm your man!

I guarantee you that this movie will make you have the giggles from start to finish. If there are a few jokes that fall flat, an equal (if not much larger) number of them take off like a rocket. Sometimes you find a diamond where you least expect it. If you like to laugh and are willing to leave your sophistication at the door, Brain Donors is easily worth your time.

Brain Donors is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Brain Donors is a film that I've been waiting for on DVD for a long time—I've had to slug through old VHS copies of the film for the past decade or so. I'm glad to finally have this movie in its original aspect ratio. The transfer looks pretty good, all things considered—the blacks are solid and dark while the colors are in great shape. This is the best Brain Donors has ever looked, and considering it's not considered a classic (for shame!), it's probably the best DVD edition we're ever likely to get.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Hey, at least we got a 5.1 mix out of the deal! Actually, this soundtrack isn't all that great when it comes to surround sounds—Brain Donors is a straightforward comedy and, on par with most commodities, it's pretty front heavy. However, Ira Newborn's music is prominently featured, and there is a bit of activity from a few of the back speakers when the need arises. Otherwise, this soundtrack works well with the film it's supporting. Also included on this disc are English subtitles, as well as a Dolby 2.0 Sound mix in English.

I guess I could complain about the lack of extra features on this first ever DVD edition of Brain Donors, but what's the point? Considering hardly anyone knows about this film, I'm not surprised Paramount decided to make this a completely bare bones disc.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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