Good evening. I'm Judge Clark Douglas, and you're not.
Our review of Best of Warner Brothers: 20-Film Comedy Collection, published July 14th, 2013, is also available.
Chevy and friends chase down the laughs!
After making a very strong impression on television viewers during the first season of Saturday Night Live, comedian Chevy Chase quickly made the leap to cinema. Though it could be argued that Chase never really reached his full potential, the late '70s and all of the '80s were good to the actor. It was during this period that Chase churned out his most well-regarded comedies (Caddyshack, Foul Play, National Lampoon's Vacation, Fletch, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) and was genuinely regarded as a legitimate box-office draw. Two modest Chase comedies from this era are included on this Blu-ray release, both of which offer a handful of minor charms.
We kick things off with Funny Farm, the final film from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid helmer George Roy Hill. Chase plays Andy Farmer, a sports journalist who is giving up his profession and moving out to the country to write crime novels. Andy and his wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith Osborne, All of Me) are initially thrilled to be free of the hassles of city life, but soon learn that country living has its own share of unique challenges. Soon, the Farmers' "little piece of heaven" has turned into a living hell plagued by a giant snake, a dead body, a reckless mailman, an unhelpful Sheriff, loads of mosquitoes, and other problems.
The best word to describe Funny Farm is "gentle." It's a film that essentially takes a stock horror-film premise (couple moves into a house and horrible things start to happen) in which the "horrors" are merely low-key comic incidents. There aren't many moments that qualify as hysterical comedy, but it's the sort of film that's likely to at least earn a few smiles from most viewers. Chase has never had a tremendous amount of range as an actor, but this is one of the few characters in which he manages to create a distinctive character who occasionally wanders outside the realm of his basic screen persona. Some of the redneck comedy gets a little tiresome (seemingly everyone in the little town the Farmers move to is an uneducated hick), but that's compensated for by the fun third-act sequence in which Andy persuades all the townsfolk to impersonate people from the covers of Norman Rockwell magazines. It's not the classic comedy some have suggested it is, but it's a charming way to spend 101 minutes.
John Landis's Spies Like Us concerns the saga of two simple-minded government operatives named Emmett Fitz-Hume (Chevy Chase) and Austin Millbarge (Dan Aykroyd, The Blues Brothers). Emmett and Austin have been sent on a terribly dangerous secret mission of considerable importance—or at least they think that's what they're doing. In fact, Emmett and Austin are merely decoys intended to distract the enemies while the real agents get the job done. As you might expect, many hijinks ensue and the two lovable idiots somehow manage to survive one deadly scenario after another.
While the gentle nature of Funny Farm is one of that film's charms, Spies Like Us suffers precisely because it is too gentle. The film aims to be a sharp political satire in the vein of Dr. Strangelove, but it lacks the conviction to come close to achieving its goals successfully. The humor is toothless; the movie offer gentle nudges when it should be delivering wild sucker punches. Consider a scene in which Chase and Aykroyd are preparing to operate on a body despite having absolutely no medical experience. There's so much potential for humor in this scene, but Landis and co. are entirely too squeamish to embrace that potential and walk away from the gag before things have a chance to get really funny. Chase and Aykroyd have pleasant chemistry together and manage to toss in a few amusing lines, but this globe-trotting adventure largely falls flat.
A noteworthy but peculiar element that distinguishes the film: it contains cameos from oodles of esteemed figures, including Costa-Gavras, Terry Gilliam, Sam Raimi, Joel Coen, Frank Oz, Bob Hope, Ray Harryhausen, Michael Apted, B.B. King, and Martin Brest. Most of these folks aren't given anything interesting to do (though Hope's cameo is cute), but their presence adds a unmerited aura of prestige to the proceedings.
Spies Like Us and Funny Farm arrive on Blu-ray sporting merely average 1080p/1.78:1 transfers that get the job done without ever really impressing. Of course, one wouldn't ever expect a pair of Chevy Chase flicks from the '80s to stun on a visual level, but both look rather soft and a little beaten-up (both films sport a steady trickle of scratches and flecks). Blacks are acceptably deep and detail is okay, though Funny Farm is the better-looking of the two by a hair (partially because its bucolic country setting beats most of the cluttered landscapes Spies Like Us offers). Audio is sturdy enough on both films, with both tracks highlighted by engaging scores from Elmer Bernstein (who somehow transformed from prestigious Oscar-winner into Hollywood's composer of choice for comedies starring Saturday Night Live veterans in the 1980s). Both tracks are pretty standard-issue and dominated by dialogue, though Spies Like Us offers a couple of action scenes that kick up an insignificant audio storm (an audio drizzle, maybe). Sadly, there are no extras offered on either disc.
While neither of these comedies has aged very well (though Funny Farm still has enough minor pleasures to merit a viewing) and this Blu-ray release offers middling audio and video, I'm sure Chase fans will be tickled to have the opportunity to own these two well-liked flicks in hi-def.
Let's go with time served.
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