Rupert Pupkin Speaks: More of My Favorite Underrated Comedies or Underrated Comedies Part Deux ""

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More of My Favorite Underrated Comedies or Underrated Comedies Part Deux

One list is never enough for me so of course as the series has continued on, I've been assembling this robust second round of Underrated Comedies I like. There were enough titles that I actually had to split it into more than one list so look for perhaps one more after this one.
Here's my part one btw:

HIGH SCHOOL USA(1983; Rod Amateau)
I often call this my favorite TV-movie of all-time. It's amazingly silly but the cast is so ridiculous you almost can't believe this movie ever got put together. To start with, you have Michael J. Fox as Jay-Jay Manners, class clown and leader extraordinaire. His intended object of desire is Beth Franklin(Nancy McKeon) but there's a catch - she's currently dating the king of the prep clique, Beau Middleton(played with amazing zeal by Anthony Edwards). Thankfully, Jay-Jay has a band of misfit pals led by super nerd Otto Lipton(Todd Bridges) to help him come up with a plan to win Beth's heart and steal her away from the detestable Beau. The roles of the other kids in the film a filled by a veritable who's who of 80s TV: Dana Plato, Crystal Bernard, Tom Villard and Lauri Hendler to name a few. The adults in this film(teacher, parents) are played by a veritable cavalcade of old TV stars including Bob Denver, Dwayne Hickman, Tony Dow, Ken Osmond, Dawn Wells, Frank Bank, and David Nelson. It's really like 80s TV meets 50s TV. So neat. One of my favorite things though is that this is an early Crispin Glover movie and he's really hilarious in it as an awkward geek paired with another classic 80s character actor, Michael Zorek(PRIVATE SCHOOL, HOT MOVES, TEEN WOLF TOO). Director Rod Amateau also did the also pretty underrated DRIVE-IN(see below).
This movie is available on dvd, but can also be seen in its entirety on YouTube:

RANCHO DELUXE(1975; Frank Perry)
Directed by Frank Perry(THE SWIMMER, LAST SUMMER, PLAY IT AS IT LAYS) and written by cult author Thomas McGuane, this film is an humorous examination of the disintegration of the American west.

MEN AT WORK(1990; Emilio Estevez)
This is one of those old VHS favorites and was(and is) regular quoted by a close friend of mine and I(he perpetually had it in his employee picks during our video store tenure together). So needless to say, when it popped up on MGMHD recently, I scrambled to record it and save it to my DVR for future reference. It is a silly, but often hilarious 80s comedy(though it came out in 1990) about two garbage men(Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen), their ambitions and a larger conspiracy they find themselves caught up in. The two brothers are great together here and I was just saying the other day that I would love to see a quasi sequel at some point. And Keith David! He's a hoot here. This was Emilio Estevez's second second effort as writer/director(his 1st was WISDOM) and he's really made an interesting career for himself. I am very curious to see his most recent effort, THE WAY(2010) which he stars in along with his dad Martin Sheen(which is currently streaming on Netflix).

INTO THE NIGHT(1985; John Landis)
I often refer to this film as "AFTER HOURS Lite", but that's probably giving it short shrift as it stand well on its own and actually preceded the release of AFTER HOURS in 1985. It stands as one of the quintessential examples of the "One Crazy Night" movie genre which I am a big big fan of. It features a rather subdued Jeff Goldblum as Ed Okin - a man on a treadmill. His monotonous life of office work and commuting are thrown into a tailspin when he discovers his wife is cheating on him and decides to take a drive in Los Angeles one evening. He runs into Diana(Michelle Pfeifer) who is on the run herself from some goons and she takes him on an adventure to beat all hell. The movie is packed with cameos from other directors(including Landis himself) and has a stellar cast all around. Gobs of fun and underseen by most everyone. My second favorite Landis after AMERICAN WEREWOLF. It's his Hitchcock movie.

COLDBLOODED(1995; Wallace Wolodarsky)
I don't think I'd ever have seen this film if I wasn't working in a video store in the 1990s. I not aware of what if any theatrical release it got and upon a quick glance it certain looked like your standard straight to video fodder. Jason Priestly? Even I, a fervent follower of 9021o wasn't immediately drawn to him in a leading role. Here's the synopsis from IMDB:
"Cosmo, an affectless mob bookie who lives in the basement of a retirement home, is promoted to hitman. He learns his new trade from Steve, a seasoned killer. He falls in love with a yoga teacher, Jasmine, and must figure out a way to leave the mob so they can be together." 
That pretty much covers it. What it doesn't illustrate is how good not only Priestly himself is, but the whole cast. The cast is stellar: Peter Riegert, Robert Loggia, Josh Charles, Kimberly Williams, Janeane Garafolo. All great. Priestly really adapts to the role here. His tone of voice, posture, and movement are all very, as the synopsis says "affectless". And Peter Riegert, who plays the seasoned hitman that must train Cosmo, is an extraordinary choice. I've always been a Riegert fan and he hits it out of the park here. Sadly this film hasn't gotten a dvd release to this point(which is deserves as I would buy it immediately), but has been available on Netflix Instant for some time so that's definitely a cool thing:

MOVING(1988; Alan Metter)
When Arlo Pear(Pryor) accepts what seems to be a dream promotion, the one catch is that he must move his family from the New Jersey suburbs to Idaho. That seems simple enough, but he runs into innumerable and increasingly wacky trouble in attempting to do so. This is another 'boring man thrust into wacky situation' type comedy with Richard Pryor at the center. The movie absolutely has the feel of trying to cash in a bit on the cache of the VACATION films in that things get pretty wacky on this cross-country trip(they even go so far as to cast Randy Quaid as the crazy neighbor). It also feels like it's trying to meld a bit of The Cosby show in there too as Pryor is in some sort of Cliff Huxtable mode here(even wearing sweaters and whatnot), but I get that it's meant to set him up as bland and unconfrontational. Regardless, its a fun, rompy comedy with a decent cameo by Dana Carvey and one of my favorite lines ever in, "I'll stomp a mudhole in your ass, poop butt!".

THE WILD LIFE(1984; Art Linson)
Sister movie/sorta sequel to FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH(it was also penned by Cameron Crowe). People are somewhat aware of this one but it has never quite gained the significant cult foothold it should due mostly to the fact that it has become more and more difficult to see over the years. Like the great AMERICAN HOT WAX(which may never see the light of day again) this film seems to be held up by music rights issues having to do with the songs used in its rather excellent soundtrack. It saw a VHS and Laserdisc release in the 80s and certainly got lots of play on cable television, but I've yet to see it ever pop up on a streaming service like Netflix so far. Really sad as it has some wonderful performances from the likes of Chris Penn, Eric Stoltz, Lea Thompson, Jenny Wright, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Hart Bochner and even Rick Moranis! Truly a gem worth tracking down if it's been off your radar. I am still holding out hope for some kind of Blu-ray special edition, but it seems unlikely and the best we can realistically hope for is an Universal Vault Series MOD.

MR. JEALOUSY(1997; Noah Baumbach)
I started thinking about this film again when I recently caught Baumbach's latest, FRANCES HA(which I loved). My Baumbach love, like my love for Wes Anderson goes back to seeing both KICKING AND SCREAMING and BOTTLE ROCKET when they both hit VHS. I thought that both Baumbach's and Anderson's comedic voices were pretty perfect(at least for me) and so I eagerly awaited their sophomore efforts. Wes Anderson's was of course RUSHMORE, which couldn't have been more formative for me and so many others, upon its release, but many missed Baumbach's 2nd outing a few years earlier on 1997 with MR. JEALOUSY. It was, I thought, a worthy follow-up to KICKING AND SCREAMING and a film where Baumbach was really strutting his Woody Allen stuff. The story is that of Lester Grimm(Eric Stoltz), a man who becomes so obsessed with finding out about his current girlfriend(Annabella Sciorra)'s ex-lovers that he goes so far as to join the therapy group one of them belongs to(overseen by Peter Bogdanovich). It's a wonderful farce that feels very Allen in its situations and it's use of New York City as well.
THE IMPOSTORS(1998; Stanley Tucci)
Stanley Tucci needs to direct more! This was mentioned on one previous list, but I couldn't leave it off mine as I really adore this movie. From it's basically silent opening scene all the way through to when the horn strains of "Skokiaan" kick in at the end, I love it so much. A wonderful throwback to comedy films of the 30s and 4os. On Netflix right now!

DRIVE-IN(1976; Rod Amateau)
The aforementioned Amateau directs this 'night in the life of a southern drive-in theater' comedy with a cast of mostly unknowns(except for lead Glenn Morshower whos' become basically obligatory in TV these days). Very light-hearted and silly, but affable. Another film long relegated to a VHS only existence, this one popped up as a Sony MOD recently and I had to pick it up.
CRACKING UP(1983; Jerry Lewis)
Aka SMORGASBOARD. Pure Jerry Lewis lunacy with barely any plot at all, but that's perfectly fine. Think of a bunch of vignettes a la the scene in the dean's office in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. I love it. Available on DVD from Warner Archive.

THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR(1942; Billy Wilder)
Comedy of misunderstanding and pedophilia based on Ginger Rogers pretending to be 12 year old to get a child's rate on a train ticket. Co-written by the great Charles Bracket, makes a nice double with Martin & Lewis' YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG.

THEY ALL LAUGHED(1981; Peter Bogdanovich)
One of Bogdanovich's best without question and a film I believe Tarantino looked at extensively while working on JACKIE BROWN. You can see a certain kinship there. I find this to be a slightly less screwball sister film to WHAT'S UP DOC, but set more in a noir/detective world. Remarkable ensemble cast. Should be a Criterion Blu-ray.

REAL MEN(1987; Dennis Feldman)
A case of "Only in the 80s" could a film like this have happened. From IMDB - the plot : "A womanizing CIA agent and an insecure insurance agent are paired together to make sure a deal goes through with aliens for the future of mankind." James Belushi plays the CIA Agent and the late great John Ritter plays the insurance agent. Truly nutty 80s screwball buddy comedy. Barbara Barrie is in it too. I shouldn't have to say much more. An interesting double with the above-mentioned MOVING actually.

HEARTS OF THE WEST(1975; Howard Zieff)
A gentle comedy from director Howard Zieff(SLITHER) and producer Tony Bill. Fits in well with some other gentle comedies Tony Bill had a hand in(GOING IN STYLE, MY BODYGUARD, HARRY AND WALTER GO TO NEW YORK). Jeff Bridges is a wanna be writer in this one who ends up cast as the leading hombre in a some B-movie Westerns. A loving tribute to the films of Mongram pictures perhaps and to B westerns in general. Backup cast is aces: Andy Griffith, Donald Pleasance, Blythe Danner, Alan Arkin, Richard B. Schull, Alex Rocco, and Matt Clark. Also available from Warner Archive.

THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST(1967; Theodore J. Flicker)   
Here's Coburn at the near height of his cool, right on the heels FLINT films(literally, as IN LIKE FLINT also came out in '67).  This outlandish conspiratorial comedy has something of cult following I suppose, but it may be quickly slipping away. It is certainly a bit dated and very much of it's time as it features "The Phone Company" as the evil, almost SPECTRE-like organization that trying to dominate the world. Come to think of it, that's not so dated after all...

UP THE CREEK(1984; Robert Butler)
ANIMAL HOUSE meets RACE FOR YOUR LIFE, CHARLIE BROWN. Seriously, a lot of fun. Thankfully this finally got a DVD release via MGM MOD.

MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK(1993; Bob Balaban)
Balaban's follow-up feature to the cult flick PARENTS, never quite developed the cult I hoped it would. It's very silly and very funny. Still apropos amidst the zombiefied culture we inhabit now. And it features a funny bit part for Philip Seymour Hoffman.


Hal said...

Lots of great stuff here. I remember THE WILD LIFE barely got a theatrical release at all in 1984, and was buried in the fall instead of the summer when it might have had a better chance. The relevation regarding Quaid's character wasn't that surprising but was still disturbing.

Rod Amateau's television work was great, and he worked with Dwayne Hickman a lot (LOVE THAT BOB, DOBIE GILLIS) so it's no wonder Hickman agreed to do this after he had basically retired from acting. My favorite feature of his is THE SENIORS from 1978, another one that has become hard to see after being ubiquitous back in the early days of late night cable.

Lots of fun in MOVING, probably the last time that Pryor looked healthy.

Anonymous said...

THEY ALL LAUGHED is just as good as Bogdanovich's earlier more acclaimed films such as LAST PICTURE SHOW, TARGETS and WHAT'S UP DOC?
I remember a local TV film critic who said something like, "Only about 5 people watching this will like this movie as much as I did" - What a review! And, sadly, so apt. This movie was ignored as much as it was dismissed upon it's original release. Certainly, worth digging out today.