Film Review: Funny Farm (1988)

Release Date: June 3rd, 1988
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Based on: Funny Farm by Jay Cronley
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Chevy Chase, Madolyn Smith, Joseph Maher, Jack Gilpin, Brad Sullivan, MacIntyre Dixon, Kevin O’Morrison, Alice Drummond, Mike Starr, Glenn Plummer, Bill Fagerbakke, Kevin Conway

Cornelius Productions, Pan Arts, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, Mrs. Farmer. Whenever you buy a house, whatever’s in the ground belongs to you – whether it’s gold or oil… or Claude Musselman.” – Sheriff Ledbetter

Funny Farm is probably the least zany of Chevy Chase’s ’80s comedies but that doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining and that it doesn’t maximize the talent of its often times zany star.

Chase, his antics and this kind of wholesome story just come across as more laid back and subtle than his other pictures of the era. This movie kind of slows Chase down and presents him in a way that I’d assume is a lot closer to his real self.

The story is simple and it sees a married couple move to the country in Vermont to work on the things they’re writing. They feel like the slow, country life will help them focus more on their work and each other without innumerable distractions.

There are a lot of good gags regarding a city couple being fishes out of water in a small town and while this taps into overused tropes, none of it feels lazy or redundant. I think that has to do with how well Chase and his onscreen wife Madolyn Smith handle the material. Additionally, they had natural chemistry and their personalities meshed well together.

The movie is populated with a lot of familiar character actors and most of the townsfolk are really entertaining and fun to watch.

Outside of the townsfolk, though, I really liked the bits with the movers, played by Mike Starr and Glenn Plummer, two actors I’ve enjoyed for decades now. I understand from a plot standpoint why they only appear in the first act but it would’ve been cool to see more of them.

Funny Farm is a pretty chill Chevy Chase experience. He’s charming and amusing while Madolyn Smith compliments him quite well. I liked the two of them in this and it’s just a simple movie with a simple message that lets you escape into it for a little while.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Spies Like Us (1985)

Release Date: December 6th, 1985
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Dave Thomas
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, Paul McCartney (title song)
Cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Forrest, Donna Dixon, Bruce Davison, Bernie Casey, William Prince, Tom Hatten, Vanessa Angel, Frank Oz, Terry Gilliam, Ray Harryhausen, Joel Coen, Sam Raimi, Bob Hope, B.B. King, Larry Cohen

AAR Films, Warner Bros., 102 Minutes

Review:

“They do seem to be headed in that general direction. Maybe your dick’s not so dumb.” – Austin Millbarge, “It got me through high school.” – Emmett Fitz-Hume

When talking about the great comedy films of the ’80s, few ever mention Spies Like Us. While it stars two comedy legends in Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, it’s sort of been lost in the shuffle with their other movies.

I had a friend’s dad who used to watch this movie constantly, when it first popped up on premium cable. While I loved it too, going over to my friend’s house almost always meant that we’d have to sit through this for the umpteenth time. I’m not sure why his dad was obsessed with this specific movie but because of that, I got burnt out on it and hadn’t watched it since, other than coming across some clips, here and there.

Watching it now, I am no longer plagued by the fatigue I once had for this film and I got to see it with somewhat fresh eyes.

Dan Aykroyd has always been a favorite of mine and honestly, I have had a new appreciation of Chevy Chase after revisiting and reviewing a lot of his movies lately. In this, he’s exceptionally good and it’s as if the movie was written specifically with him in mind.

Aykroyd is also on his A-game in this and the two men had good chemistry, which probably goes all the way back to their time on Saturday Night Live. And with that, I really wish these two would’ve worked together more often. I think all they did together after this was the abysmally bad and super weird Nothing But Trouble and Caddyshack II, where they were barely used and I’m not even sure if they shared any scenes in that one, at all.

Anyway, this sees the two legends paired together and sent into the Soviet Union as spies. What they don’t know going into their mission is that they are just sent in to create a distraction for the real spy team. However, they do end up rising to the occasion and help complete the real mission.

This was directed by John Landis, who had a real penchant for comedy, especially in the ’80s. He had directed Aykroyd a few times before this and he’d work with Chase after. But if you like Landis’ style of comedy, this fits right in with the rest of them.

Spies Like Us is just a fun, fairly mindless movie. Being that the Cold War was still seemingly going strong when this came out, it allowed people to laugh about it and also see Americans and Russians working together for a greater good.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Three Amigos! (1986)

Also known as: The Three Caballeros (working title), ¡Three Amigos! (UK spelling)
Release Date: December 10th, 1986 (Beverly Hills premiere)
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, Randy Newman
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, Randy Newman (song lyrics)
Cast: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Alfonso Arau, Tony Plana, Patrice Martinez, Joe Mantegna, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz

L.A. Films, HBO Films, Broadway Video, Orion Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“You dirt-eating piece of slime! You scum-sucking pig! You son of a motherless goat!” – Lucky Day

When I was a kid, I probably saw this movie two dozen times between renting it and seeing it on HBO. It featured three of the funniest guys of the era (and ever, really), it was a bizarre concept but it also had action and heroism. When my mum brought back sombreros from a Mexican cruise, my cousins and I used to play “Three Amigos” in the backyard.

Now after exposing my absolute dorkiness in the ’80s, I still really enjoy this movie and kind of wish that stuff like this could still be made. Hopefully, Hollywood’s pendulum swings back towards sanity and fun in the near future.

Anyway, the story sees three singing cowboy actors from the earliest era of film getting called down to Mexico because they’re mistaken for their characters. The Mexican village is under the threat of a warlord and the people summoned the Three Amigos for protection. However, the actors have just been fired by the studio after a box office failure and are under the assumption that their trip to Mexico is an acting gig. Once there, they slowly figure out what’s happening, want to flee but then rise to the occasion and help the village free themselves from tyranny.

The best part about the film is that the three comedians have incredible chemistry. While all three very easily could’ve succumbed to their own egos and desire to be the movie’s one true star, they gel as an ensemble in a way that is similar to the casts of Ghostbusters and Tropic Thunder. While I’ve heard for years that Chevy Chase was a hard guy to work with, if that was true on this picture, it didn’t effect the final product.

Overall, this is a lighthearted, fun movie. The action is great for a comedic picture and I think the action really made this a much cooler film, especially for those of us who grew up with this.

Looking at it through a modern lens, the film serves as a reminder that we could have entertaining, mindless escapism and not feel guilty about it. Three Amigos! was (and is) a movie that just wanted to entertain its audience and make them not think about the world and its problems for 104 minutes. I wish Hollywood would tell stories like this again and just lay off of their political/social agendas from the point-of-view of a fantasy land that’s the furthest place away from reality.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Fletch Lives (1989)

Also known as: Fletch Saved (working title)
Release Date: March 17th, 1989
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Leon Capetanos
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Chevy Chase, Hal Holbrook, Julianne Phillips, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Libertini, Cleavon Little, Randall “Tex” Cobb, George Wyner, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Belzer, Phil Hartman

Cornelius Productions, Vincent Pictures, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I am not a big man.” – Fletch

I was surprised that I liked this film as much as I did.

The reason being, I remember people trashing it pretty heavily when it came out. While I used to see pieces of it on television over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in its entirety in one viewing. But people did always say that this was a pretty shitty sequel and not on the level of the original.

Well, it’s not as good as Fletch but Fletch Lives is still a pretty funny movie that’s tailormade for Chevy Chase’s strengths. So while I have a much higher opinion of this movie than the majority, I feel like maybe I should defend it, as I feel like it probably deserves that.

I think that the new setting of the film actually helps it and makes it fresh. I liked seeing Fletch go to the bayou to expose some seedy shit. I also liked how they used it to emphasize the cultural clash between an L.A. investigative reporter and the Cajun folk, ranging from the good Southerners to the outright racist pieces of shit. I also loved the televangelical angle and R. Lee Ermey’s role as the megachurch pastor.

Beyond Ermey, I also enjoyed the great Hal Holbrook playing a crooked Cajun millionaire.

Additionally, I liked the chemistry between Chase and the film’s leading lady, Julianne Phillips.

Chase also had solid camaraderie with Cleavon Little. Seeing those two comedic icons come together is a real treat regardless of the perceived quality of the film.

This installment of the series relies more on Chase wearing funny costumes while “undercover”. I really like these sequences, though, and I like seeing Chase play odd characters.

Overall, Fletch Lives is pretty solid and I say that as a guy who was never a big Chase fan. However, I do really enjoy him as this character and I honestly think it’s his best.

Sadly, we never did get that third Fletch picture and I’m pretty sure the ship has sailed on that.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee (2020)

Also known as: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (working title), The Very Excellent Mr. Crocodile Dundee, Mr. Dundee (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 17th, 2020 (Australia, New Zealand – Internet)
Directed by: Dean Murphy
Written by: Robert Mond, Dean Murphy
Music by: John Foreman
Cast: Paul Hogan, Rachael Carpani, Jacob Elordi, Chevy Chase, John Cleese, Olivia Newton-John, Reginald VelJohnson, Wayne Knight, Paul Fenech, Shane Jacobson, Kerry Armstrong, Charlotte Stent, Luke Hemsworth, Jim Jefferies, Costas Mandylor, Nancy O’Dell

Clock Sounds Productions Pty, Kathy Morgan International, Piccadilly Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“He’s back, whether he likes it or not.” – tagline

I grew up loving Paul Hogan, which is honestly why I even watched this in the first place. I certainly wasn’t lured in by the trailer or the 4.9 out of 10 on IMDb. But Hogan is a hell of a cool guy and I wanted to give this a shot because I immensely enjoy Crocodile Dundee I and II.

Needless to say, I thought that this was better than a 4.9 but not by a large margin. I enjoyed it, mostly, but it isn’t something that I’ll probably ever watch again. It was certainly better than the mostly terrible Crocodile Dundee III but a hair beneath Hogan’s Almost An Angel.

That being said, it’s nice spending time with Hogan again, as well as some of the other people he brought into this movie like Reginald VelJohnson, John Cleese, Wayne Knight, Chevy Chase and Olivia Newton-John. It’s also chock full of cameos from a lot of Australian celebrities and other friends of Hogan’s.

The plot sees Hogan playing himself and I guess it’s a lot like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where the actor playing himself constantly screws up in every situation. For the most part, though, Hogan means well and not to offend but he either doesn’t fully understand the situation he’s in or someone else is a complete asshole but Hogan is blamed for it – like when the nun gets knocked out, which was due to Hogan protecting himself from an object thrown by a raging imbecile.

Most of the gags are still amusing, even if you see them coming from a mile away.

I thought that was is just a charming and lighthearted picture because of Paul Hogan. But honestly, there’s not much reason to watch it more than once and you should already have a love for its star.

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Review: Fletch (1985)

Release Date: May 31st, 1985
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Andrew Bergman
Based on: Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Chevy Chase, Joe Don Baker, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Richard Libertini, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Matheson, M. Emmet Walsh, George Wendt, Kenneth Mars, Geena Davis, George Wyner, Chick Heam

Vincent Pictures, Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Why don’t we go lay on the bed and I’ll fill you in?” – Fletch

Because I’m not a big Chevy Chase fan, I hadn’t seen Fletch since the ’80s and even then, I don’t think I ever watched it from start-to-finish until now.

Seeing this as an adult, though, I think my mind has shifted. I actually dug this movie quite a bit and it’s made me rethink Chase and his contributions to cinematic comedy.

If I’m being honest, he was perfect in this, it truly utilized his charm and his comedic style. In fact, I’d even say that his style was enhanced by this script and the situations throughout the movie.

He wasn’t a complete self-absorbed prick like he was in most of the Vacation movies. Sure, he was definitely self-impressed with his own antics but he was actually a heroic character, trying to uncover a mysterious plot and rid the beaches of drug pushers with ties to the local cops. He also had this coolness about him that was similar to the coolness he had in Caddyshack but this even eclipsed that, as he was this film’s focal point and he wasn’t competing for laughs with Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray.

The cast is also stacked with lots of great character actors like Joe Don Baker, M. Emmet Walsh, George Wendt, George Wyner and Kenneth Mars. It also featured Tim Matheson and a very young Geena Davis. However, I really liked Dana Wheeler-Nicholson in this, as the female lead. She had good chemistry with Chase and their budding relationship was believable and nice to watch.

I also thought that the Harold Faltermeyer score was solid. I think it’s my favorite score he’s done after his work on the first two Beverly Hills Cop movies.

Fletch might be the perfect Chevy Chase film. I’m going to have to review the sequel in the next few weeks. While I think it’s safe to assume that it’s not as good as this flick, I hope it utilizes Chase’s talent as well as this did.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Vacation (2015)

Release Date: July 29th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, Michael Pena, Hannah Davis Jeter, Colin Hanks, John Francis Daley 

BenderSpink, David Dobkin Productions, New Line Cinema, 99 Minutes

Review:

“I just wanted to sing Seal with my family like normal people.” – Rusty Griswold

Full disclosure, I’m not an Ed Helms fan. I think the main reason for that is due to him making the final season of The Office pretty damn insufferable. I also don’t necessarily blame him for that, I think it was the writing and whoever was calling the shots on that show at the end. But with that, I was burnt out on Ed Helms for several years.

So, as I approached this film, I wanted to go into it with an open mind and without my previous biases. I knew I’d have to eventually get to this, as I was already watching and reviewing all the Vacation movies and didn’t want to simply omit this one just because it didn’t feature Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the leads.

I’m happy to say that I found this to be pretty decent. It does have some laughable moments, features cameos with a lot of people I like and Ed Helms had solid chemistry with Christina Applegate. Also, he played this version of Rusty Griswold pretty straight and not as over the top as his Andy Bernard character from The Office.

Ultimately, though, this is a rehash of what the original film was with the same destination in mind. The adventure on the way to WallyWorld followed similar beats and homaged some classic moments but there was enough original stuff in this to allow it to stand on its own and to not just be a paint-by-numbers remake.

I also like that this did bring back Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo in their iconic roles, even if it was just a small part within the larger movie.

I can’t really say that this is all that memorable, though. It’s better than some of the other Vacation movies but that was never really a high bar to begin with.

In the end, this is goofy, mindless escapism and while some jokes don’t land as intended, the movie still has a good, positive spirit about it and I liked the core characters.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Hotel Hell Vacation (2010)

Release Date: February 7th, 2010
Directed by: Bryan Buckley
Based on: characters created by John Hughes
Music by: Stephen Altman
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo

Hungry Man, 14 Minutes

Review:

So this entry into the National Lampoon’s Vacation film franchise is the most unique, simply because it isn’t a feature length film and is actually a 14 minute short that was produced to promote a website from a decade ago that was essentially Airbnb before Airbnb.

The entire short film centers around just the Griswold parents, as they go to a romantic getaway in a hotel that’s terrible in every way.

The purpose of the film was to show that hotel stays are awful and that you should be renting people’s homes instead while on your vacation.

Website marketing aside, this is a fairly funny short that stays pretty true to the characters of Clark and Ellen Griswold. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo committed to this project and their iconic roles.

Still, this is a short and it goes by rather quickly, as Clark and Ellen eventually escape “Hotel Hell” and meet up with their son Rusty, who is staying in a nice beachfront rental with his family.

While this doesn’t have the running time to tell a larger story, it’s still chock full of decent gags and it fits well within the spirit of the film series.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other Chevy Chase comedies.

Film Review: Vegas Vacation (1997)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: February 14th, 1997
Directed by: Stephen Kessler
Written by: Elisa Bell, Bob Ducsay
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Joel McNeely
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Ethan Embry, Marisol Nichols, Wayne Newton, Wallace Shawn, Miriam Flynn, Christie Brinkley, Julia Sweeney, Siegfried & Roy, Toby Huss, Sid Caesar, Jerry Weintraub

Jerry Weintraub Productions, National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t know when to quit, do ya Griswold? Here’s an idea: Why don’t you give me half the money you were gonna bet? Then, we’ll go out back, I’ll kick you in the nuts, and we’ll call it a day!” – Marty

While this is the National Lampoon’s Vacation movie that most people like the least, it’s actually my favorite. In fact, I think I like these movies in the exact opposite order of the general consensus.

Now I didn’t realize that this was my favorite until I just watched it because I hadn’t seen it since the ’90s and well, a lot of things didn’t leave big impressions on me then because I was too busy chasing girls, smoking things and drinking things.

Anyway, I did remember thinking that this version of Audrey Griswold was gorgeous and I’m glad to see that I was right. I also thought Marisol Nichols was good in the role and brought something new to it but then again, one of the in-jokes of this series is that the kids are recast with every film and there isn’t much of an effort in trying to keep those roles consistent. I also like that the film poked fun at this by having Clark admit that he doesn’t recognize his own kids.

I think that the role of Rusty has been mostly consistent, though. I really liked seeing Ethan Embry get the opportunity to step into the somewhat iconic role, as he was emerging as a top young talent at the time and I pretty much like him in everything.

Plus, Rusty’s story was my favorite in the film and I found the gags pertaining to his side quest to be pretty good. I also liked Jerry Weintraub, one of the film’s producers, playing the part of an older gambling legend that takes Rusty under his wing. This was just good, amusing shit all around.

Beverly D’Angelo’s Ellen spent the movie smitten with Wayne Newton and honestly, I enjoyed this too, especially getting to see Newton play a fictional, over-the-top, womanizing version of himself.

Chevy Chase’s Clark was more chill than he normally is, which I actually found refreshing as his antics can grow tiring by the end of the film. In this, he just wanted to spend time with his family, who were all off doing their own things.

Clark also gets his own side plot where he develops a rivalry with a Vegas dealer played by the always stupendous Wallace Shawn. In fact, outside of The Princess Bride, this may be his best character.

I guess what I like about this so much is the same thing I like about European Vacation and that’s seeing each character go off and have their own adventure and story arc. Granted, I like seeing these characters come together, and they always do, but the multiple plot threads, weaving in and out, is just more entertaining and keeps the movie flowing at a good pace.

Vegas Vacation has an unfair, bad rap for some reason. Sure, it came out after a long hiatus in the series and is the only picture of the original four that didn’t come out in the ’80s. With that, the formula was stale by 1997. However, seeing it, nearly twenty-five years removed from its release, it isn’t bad and it fits well within the series and has the right sort of spirit.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Film Review: Christmas Vacation (1989)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1989 (Australia)
Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by: John Hughes
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Miriam Flynn, William Hickey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, Brian Doyle-Murray, Sam McMurray

National Lampoon, Hughes Entertainment, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell.” – Clark Griswold

I know that this is many people’s favorite Christmas movie but I also don’t trust people who say this. Seriously, this is the most beloved thing that you have to revisit every December? This?

Honestly, out of the Vacation films, I think that this one is, by far, the worst. It just doesn’t appeal to me and it’s full of really unlikable characters that are selfish and stupid.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Chevy Chase fan and think he’s rarely funny. He just makes dumb faces and fucks up all the time. But I guess dumb people need a dumb “comedian” to make them cackle.

The one thing working against this film is that it breaks the framework of what these movies should be, which is a vacation that takes the family on a trip. Here, they just host a bunch of unlikable assholes in their own home on a street that looks like it’s a festive matte painting, static and devoid of any real life.

Half the movie deals with Chase trying to get Christmas lights to work. This would’ve been fine as a one or two scene gag but it’s like half of the f’n film. The other half is him failing at everything else while also pissing off his ungrateful family and terrorizing Elaine from Seinfeld and her effeminate, yuppie, bitch boy husband.

I also hate the theme of this movie, which gets stuck in my head for weeks if I even hear a few notes.

Kids I always hated, always wanted to watch this movie. I was always like, “Let’s watch Scrooged or Gremlins or Die Hard!” And they’d be like, “This is my house! We watch Chebby Chabe! So funny!” These kids always had the shittiest Nintendo games too.

Anyway, I have to sort of grin it and bear it whenever this movie is on around the holidays, as my family tends to watch everything Christmas-y on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But then I usually pick that time to go outside and escape loud kids and drunk aunts, as I stare blankly at the lake pondering about how humans evolved from lake slime over millions of years and somehow, one of them evolved into Chevy Chase. It’s one of the cosmos’ greatest mysteries.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.