Their main goal is swiping soul.
Originally produced by Walt Disney Pictures, The Devil and Max Devlin is a family comedy about what happens when you die (and don't go to heaven). At the time this film came out Bill Cosby and Elliot Gould were at the prime of their careers and tapped to play Satan's assistant and Max Devlin, respectively. Most kids who grew up in the early '80s will remember The Devil and Max Devlin as a schmaltzy comedy perfect for family Saturday nights and sleepovers. Anchor Bay has released The Devil and Max Devlin on DVD in both widescreen and full frame versions. Is this disc heavenly or does it go straight to H-E double hockey sticks?
Facts of the Case
Max Devlin (Gould) is dead. After (literally) chasing down a tenant in his building for his rent money, Devlin is tripped by an old blind lady and falls flat on his face in the street as a bus falls flat on Devlin's back. It's crunch time, and Devlin is off to Hell.
In Hell he meets Barney Satin (Cosby), Satan's right hand man (David Spade would have been better suited in this role). Devlin is none too happy that he's kicked the bucket, so Barney suggests a little deal: Devlin can go back to earth and live if, within three months, he can acquire the signatures of three kid's souls for Hell. Devlin reluctantly agrees and is sent back to earth to gain three souls in trade for his own.
And back to the big ball of mud he goes. On Earth, Devlin finds out that only he can see Barney when he appears, so Devlin spends much of his time walking around talking to Barney and LOOKING like he's talking to himself. Barney is there to give him some advice on what to do to achieve his goals. Devlin has the power to make people's dreams come true, but only if the two are in sight of each other.
Everything runs smoothly with the first two souls, including a Barbra Striesand look-alike Stella Summers (Julie Budd) and a motorbike nerd Nerve Nordlinger (David Knell). But soon Devlin is caught in a snag…his third soul is Toby (obnoxious child actor Adam Rich of TV's Eight Is Enough), the son of a woman he has fallen in love with. Uh-oh.
Sigh…what's a minion of Satan to do? Now it's up to Devlin to set things right and win back his soul!
I'm going to flat out admit it—I liked The Devil and Max Devlin when I was a kid. But along these tumultuous years something has happened…I must have grown cynical and cold hearted, because I couldn't summon up one iota of emotion while watching this film. It's bland, inoffensive, and boring kiddie fluff.
Now, I understand that this is basically a Disney film. It was originally produced by the Disney company with families as the target. And there are some good things about it. Elliot Gould and Bill Cosby are fine in their roles as Max Devlin and Barney. Sadly, Cosby shows no real signs of the humor that has become his trademark; instead he is bland and "supposedly" evil. Those who find Bill Cosby to be an evil presence in this film are the same people who think Carson Daly of MTV's TRL has talent. It just ain't workin'.
Gould plays Devlin with some hints of menace, but ultimately Devlin ends up being a good guy (surprise). As with all these types of films, the main character has to have a turning point to see the error of their ways. In this film, however, I didn't really believe that Devlin had that turning point. Oh sure, he finds the errors of his way, but HOW he does is not very believable.
The vision of Hell is actually well done (considering this was around the same time the game "Pong" came out). Set designers actually did a nice job of making Hell look pretty darn scary. Then you see Bill Cosby and the whole atmosphere is ruined. Thanks a lot, Cos.
The Devil and Max Devlin is presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 plus a full frame standard version. The transfer is less than stellar. Specks of grain were spotted throughout the picture, and at one point it looks as if a piece of the negative is split. Colors usually appeared sharp and clear with minimal bleeding talking place. I'd have thought that Anchor Bay might have cleaned up this print a bit more, but on the bright side it is the best way you'll ever see this film (as it was only on VHS originally). The Dolby Digital audio does the job well enough, with effects and music mixed in well. Dialogue was easily heard and wasn't drowned out by the background sounds. My one complaint is that damn song "Roses and Rainbows " is literally sung about 15 times in 15 different scenes. Okay Ms. Budd, let's talk about the word "overkill" and how we can stop using it every 45 seconds. You ain't like "buttuh."
As for extras, Anchor Bay has decided to put nothing on this disc, not even a trailer. Though, in all honesty, are any of you out there really that disappointed? Was there ever a huge clamoring for a commentary track by Elliot Gould or interviews by the crew as to what special memories they had about making The Devil and Max Devlin? I guess every movie deserves something, as there will always be at least one fan per movie made. Sadly, the one fan of The Devil and Max Devlin lives in the Arctic and doesn't own a DVD player.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
And lets now talk about actor Adam Rich who plays young Toby. He was cute enough on the series Eight is Enough. Fine, thanks for playing. But now we have to watch TWO hours straight of this kid smart-assing his way through the script and it gets PRETTY old after a while. In every single scene this kid looks like he's batting his eyes for all he is worth. Listen up kid, get a comic book and take a scene. There's only so much sugary sweetness we can watch till we want to up-chuck our insides.
The sad thing is I'm a teacher. Lucky for me there are no kids on the planet that act like this little booger.
The script for The Devil and Max Devlin is pretty weak and has to really, REALLY strain to find good comedic moments. I realize I'm going to sound like a sourpuss when I say this, but I didn't find one instance when I laughed out loud. Not one. That's not a good sign. Much of the dialogue has to do with puns on Hell. One example is when Devlin tells a kid to go like a "bat out of Hell," Barney shows up to quip "have you ever seen our bats?" Insert stock laugh here.
As for the transfer, I've pointed out the inherent troubles the print has. I'm actually shocked to see that Anchor Bay did this film as an anamorphic transfer. I think that really says something about Anchor Bay. They might put out crap, but at least they try and take good care of their crap, unlike studios such as MGM that just throw whatever they can on a disc with out care to make a few bucks.
For the price of around $24.99, I can hardly recommend this disc as a purchase. I could say rent it, but then again why not just wait and see if you can't find it on your local cable stations sometime? The transfer is ho-hum, there are no extras to speak of, and the plot is about as exciting as watching my toenails grow.
Guilty as charged…no extras, no good transfer, no good story. The Devil and Max Devlin, you're gonna need a lawyer and QUICK.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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