Thursday, April 08, 2004

Comedy Isn't Pretty: Steve Martin's Fall From Funny

The DVD release of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN this week has been a huge seller. My guess is that it was an impulse buy Dad bought for the kids while picking up MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. Whatever the case, CHEAPER is a horribly unfunny family film that will surely soon collect dust as its target audience moves quickly on.

Kind of like Martin's last film, BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, which was an exercise in commercial blandness despite some funny moments courtesy of Eugene Levy, CHEAPER is throwaway family fluff that further removes Martin from his former famous funniness.

There is possible redemption ahead with the prospect of Martin's excellent book Shopgirl's film adaptation but unfortunately that's overshadowed by the news that he is set to start filming a new PINK PANTHER movie next month. That news is met with much concern and doubt from me.

Very few, myself included think it is a good idea to try to revive a series that is over 20 years dead with 3 failed awful attempts to revive it since long buried. Maybe Martin can pull off playing the famous part of Inspector Clouseau defined by the late great Peter Sellers (which was #67 on Premiere's Greatest Movie Characters list in their latest issue, Martin's Navin Johnson, a.k.a. THE JERK is #66 interestingly) but judging by his strained slapstick work and the forced physical comedy that dominates CHEAPER I wouldn't put money on it.

In my estimation the last truly good Steve Martin comedy was BOWFINGER. It had a good premise: aspiring filmmaker scams a cheapie sc-fi movie out of a actor (Eddie Murphy) who doesn't know he's being filmed. It had a funny screenplay with moments like when starlet Heather Graham flirtaciously offers - "I love Smashing Pumpkins" and Martin's Bowfinger excitedly responds - "I love to do that!" And it has a good nature to it even with the bit about the self-promoting lesbian that Graham's character becomes which made everyone think Martin was taking a swipe at former lover Anne Heche.

But to get to that comic gem though we had to suffer through SGT.BILKO, THE OUT OF TOWNERS, and MIXED NUTS. Hiding behind those flops was a little seen David Mamet movie THE SPANISH PRISONER which featured a rare mannered dramatic performance by Martin.

Another failed foray into this direction was the thriller NOVOCAINE which was silly, but I have to admit I enjoyed.

For the record, here's Film Babble Blog's pick for the best Steve Martin comedies. It's an unsurprising but essential list : 


  1. THE JERK (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1979)

  2. THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1983)

  3. ALL OF ME (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1984) 

  4. DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1982)

  5. ROXANNE (Dir. Fred Schepisi, 1987)

  6. PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES (Dir. John Hughes,    1987)

  7. L.A. STORY (Dir. Mick Jackson, 1990)

  8. BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999)

  9. PARENTHOOD (Dir. Ron Howard, 1989)

10. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Dir. Frank Oz, 1986): Just a cameo, but his song "Dentist" steals the whole show.


11. ¡THREE AMIGOS! (Dir. John Landis, 1986)

12. THE LONELY GUY (Dir. Arthur Hiller, 1984)

13. MY BLUE HEAVEN (Dir. Herbert Ross, 1990) 

14. LEAP OF FAITH (Dir. Richard Pearce 1992)

15. DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (Dir. Frank Oz, 1988)


 1. MIXED NUTS (Dir. Nora Ephron, 1994)

 2. SGT. BILKO (Dir. Jonathan Lynn,1996)

 3. THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (Dir. Sam Weisman, 1999)

 4. LOONEY TUNES - BACK IN ACTION (Dir. Joe Dante, 2003) 

 5. SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (Dir. Michael Schultz, 1978): Just a cameo but still!


 1. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (Dir. Herbert Ross, 1981)

 2. THE SPANISH PRISONER (Dir. David Mamet, 1997)

 3. NOVOCAINE (Dir. David Atkins, 2001)

 4. GRAND CANYON (Dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 1991)

 5. AND THE BAND PLAYED ON (Dir. Roger Spottiswood, 1993) (HBO telefilm)

We haven't given up on you Steve - we're all hoping you can do some good with SHOPGIRL (now in post production) and that you will prove us wrong on the PINK PANTHER deal.

We all loved when in your only bearded role as a schlock movie producer in Lawrence Kasdan's GRAND CANYON you said to Kevin Kline: "That's part of your problem: you haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies." 

And if you don't agree with that or any of this, well EXCUSE ME!!!!

More later...

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