On the run, falling in love and up to their necks in funny business!
Hanky Panky was a sort-of spy thriller that was originally intended to be another vehicle for the successful comedic duo of Gene Wilder (Blazing Saddles) and Richard Pryor (Stir Crazy). For some reason, Pryor backed out and his part was rewritten into a female lead, for which Gilda Radner (Haunted Honeymoon) was chosen. Sidney Poitier, fresh off of directing Wilder in Stir Crazy, was attached to this project. The result was a box office flop, but it yielded more movies and an off-screen marriage for Wilder and Radner. Columbia TriStar has now put this early '80s disaster onto a horribly overpriced DVD. Yeee-haaaa!
Facts of the Case
Michael Jordan (Wilder, not to be confused for "Air Jordan") is an architect from Chicago in New York City on business when he accidentally gets into the same cab as Janet Dunn (Kathleen Quinlan, Event Horizon) who happens to unfortunately be on the run from the totally evil Ransom (Richard Widmark, How the West Was Won). Janet apparently has some sort of secret package that Ransom wants and is willing to kill for, and Michael simply tries to convince Janet to go on a date with him. Wanting to be a help to Janet, he drops a package of hers in the mail, but she slips away.
Unable to take "no" or having a cab door slammed in his face for an answer, Michael decides to find Janet, but he's instead taken into custody by some hired goons. After a dose of sodium pentathol, Michael gives up all of the information to the bad guys, who then decide to take him out and kill him. Formulating a cunning plan, Michael escapes and soon discovers that he's entered a world of international intrigue, or something.
Michael then succeeds in finding Janet Dunn, who is brutally murdered a scant few minutes later by Ransom, who flees the scene and leaves Michael to discover the body. In a plot contrivance rivaling any episode of Three's Company, the entire world comes to believe that Michael is a murderer.
As Michael tries to flee New York, he meets up with Kate Hellman (Radner), who, for reasons I was never entirely able to figure out, decides to help Michael by hitting a cop over the head with a wine bottle. The two of them go on the run and try to locate the secret package in Boston. Once they find it, they soon discover that it's a computer tape with super-secret encoding that leads them to the Grand Canyon and a showdown between the forces of good, who dress in totally stupid uniforms, and the forces of evil, who have nice suits. The only real surprise in this film being that it's usually the other way around.
The truly tragic thing about Hanky Panky, other than it was made, is the horrendous identity crisis that this film has. When you have a film called Hanky Panky, at the very least you conjure up perhaps something comedic (because words that rhyme with "spanky" tend to be funny), and the term conjures up images of some sort of illicit affair. That being said, this should have been some sort of romantic comedy. Then when you throw in the tagline (see above), you have a further reinforced notion of some sort of a romantic comedy. And if you think that's exactly what this movie is, then you're just as big a fool as I am. I was expecting the funny stuff to commence at any moment, but it never happened. Instead, I ended up watching some sort of nonsense about spies, weapons programs, uncopyable computer tapes that had been copied with secret codes, brutal murders, poisonings, kidnappings, and a guy holding the world ransom for one hundred billion dollars. Okay, I made that last one up, but you get the idea. The script seems to be more along the lines of a Hitchcock thriller instead of a romantic comedy, which makes the rather half-hearted attempts at comedy come off as really lame. The script is just too heavy to the point that any moments of levity are simply lost beneath its weight. I should also point out that the comedic aspects of Hanky Panky, on the rare occasions that they pop up, are tremendously forced. For example, Michael and Kate evade the bad guys through a cabaret and Michael steals a tuxedo from the wardrobe department. When they make their way on board a city bus, he soon discovers that the tuxedo is a magician's prop, and the crowd on the bus reacts with unfunny, forced laughter, which is a sure way to kill any gag before it gets going. Where's Richard Pryor when you need him?
It was fairly obvious from the get-go that Hanky Panky had originally been envisioned as something of a follow-up to Silver Streak, a highly successful comedy starring Wilder and Pryor. Or, maybe it was a script that was meant to be a spy thriller written by some guy that somebody got hold of and decided to cast Wilder in the lead. (If this is the case, imagine casting Richard Lewis or Carrot Top as the lead in Die Hard, and you'll get a comparable result.) Someone, at some time, then decided to turn the script into a romance, but they horribly failed at this, as well. Despite the fact that Wilder and Radner would go on to get married and have one of the few successful Hollywood marriages, the sparks don't necessarily fly between the two on camera. Sure, there are moments where they take time out from being chased to reaffirm that they're happy they're with each other, but it's not something you necessarily believe because nothing about their relationship ever makes sense. It might have been because of the incident with the wine bottle and the police officer's noggin and simply steamrollered from there. I can't simply be sure of this, but I'm not going to go back and find out.
Another real problem is the actual acting ability of the two leads. Wilder seems to have two acting modes: sensitively speaking to Kate and yelling. It's the yelling part that gets old pretty fast, as it constitutes just about every line that comes out of Wilder's mouth. During a frenetic sequence in a small plane over the Grand Canyon in which their pilot (Jonathon Winters, It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) has a heart attack and dies, Wilder refuses to take control of the plane and for about five minutes he screams and yells about how the pilot isn't actually dead. Never mind that the plane would have crashed in the first thirty seconds and the whole yelling thing was old at about the ten minute mark of the film. Radner, unfortunately, doesn't fare much better, as she's relegated to rolling her eyes goofily and mugging for the camera, two things that she was really good at, but as a whole a tremendous waste of her overall talent.
I won't go on about the horrible plot holes, but I should mention that this script wouldn't have passed the Ten-Year-Old test—if a ten-year-old reads the script and finds horrible problems with it, then maybe you should go back and do some rewriting. Since this script had obviously been rewritten to get rid of Pryor's character and introduce Radner's character, I really have to wonder if the overall changes affected the continuity of the story.
Hanky Panky is presented in an anamorphic format. The transfer is a victim of the film being kind of old, so there are problems with graininess and proper color depth. It's not horrible, but it's certainly not good. The audio is presented in a very flat and unutilized 2.0 channel presentation. If you're expecting a load of really cool extras, you should look no further than True Romance, but if you want a only a theatrical trailer, you're in the right place. I should also mention that this DVD includes "bonus trailers," but I find I was simply duped. These were nothing more than advertisements for other crappy movies. My trust in Hollywood was shattered.
I will also point out that Columbia TriStar was nice enough to include both a widescreen and a pan-and-scan version of Hanky Panky, but since it's my personal belief that pan-and-scan is one of the three most evil institutions of the 21st century that need to be confronted, preferably with excessive force, that portion of the DVD will go unreviewed.
Hanky Panky is simply one of those movies that should never, ever, for any conceivable reason, been greenlighted. It simply boggles the mind that someone sitting in a room somewhere at some time thought this was a good idea. I will now light myself on fire.
Guilty! The cast, writers, director, and the people who greenlighted this mess are all sentenced to having a jar of hissing spiders dumped over their heads.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailer
Review content copyright © 2002 Kevin Lee; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.