Alan Smithee Podcast 81: Fletch (1985, Michael Ritchie) / Fletch Lives (1989, Michael Ritchie)

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Have you heard the news, makin’ all the headlines? An Alan Smithee Podcast is workin’ overtime, going bit by bit one way or another and diggin’ into the Chevy Chase quasi-classic Fletch…and its fully reprehensible sequel Fletch Lives.

Chevy Chase’s detractors have always had their work cut out for them: the diminishing returns of the Vacation franchise, the many starring roles he bombed in (Under the Rainbow, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Cops and Robbersons) the five fabulous weeks of The Chevy Chase Show…Chase’s fans, however, are usually split on which was his more successful comedy persona: the smart-alec lothario or the doofy husband. Fans of the latter are stronger proponents of Vacation and Funny Farm while fans of the latter gravitate towards his Weekend Update run on Saturday Night Live or role in the ensemble of Caddyshack as his best work. For fans of the latter, Fletch may well be the apex of his career. For 90-some minutes he dryly narrates, wisecracks and plays dumb through a story that’s rooted in the mystery genre just enough to take seriously, but with a tone that’s lighthearted enough to work perfectly as carefree entertainment. It was all downhill after this for Chase, as every subsequent film and appearance felt like an impossible attempt to meld the smarmy and the bourgeoisie sides of himself into something for everybody.

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Fletch actually has a shelf life beyond fans of casual or hardcore fans Chevy Chase. In the nearly 30 years since its release, obsessing on the film’s wealth of quips and one-liners has become a calling and a joke onto itself. This blurb from The Onion in 1999 describes an Area Insurance Salesman celebrating his 14th year of quoting Fletch:

Cutler, who also goes by the name “Dr. Rosenrosen,” dead-panned, “Never mind, just bring me a cup of hot fat and the head of Alfredo Garcia.”

This possibly inspired the New York Post to write an actual short piece about Fletch fandom just a few months later, with some keen insights as to its durability from its makers:

Chase thinks that the movie continues to appeal to college students because of “the cheekiness of the guy … everybody at that age would like to be as quick-witted as Fletch, and as uncaring about what others think.”

The same glowing article also ends with a withering comment from screenwriter Andrew Bergman, however, summing up how Chevy and Michael Ritchie screwed the pooch four years later:

Bergman says that if Chase “hadn’t screwed up the second one, he could have been Clouseau – he could have done that part forever.”

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“The second one” is of course Fletch Lives, one of the most execrable bad comedy sequels we’ve ever viewed for An Alan Smithee Podcast – even worse than Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. The problems are so myriad that it would take less time to describe what the film does right – like casting Chevy Chase again – but those were some bad four years in between and even that decision is debatable. The world got one more Harold Faltemeyer score, and Hal Holbrook got a paycheck, but was it worth it? To quote yet another newspaper on this would-be news reporter comedy franchise, Vincent Canby got it exactly right in his New York Times review:

“Fletch Lives looks less like Fletch 2…than Fletch 7, the bitter end of a worn-out series.”

Ten years after Fletch Lives there was serious talk from Kevin Smith about relaunching Fletch with Jason Lee as the young Irwin Fletcher, and possibly Chase narrating the tale in flashback – a prequel based on Gregory MacDonald’s prequel novel Fletch Won (Won/One, geddit?) The project has changed hands on the writing, directing and starring fronts a half-dozen times since then, with everyone from Ben Affleck to Zach Braff to Dave Chappelle(!) being considered. Another ten years after the first rumblings for the return of the wisecracking reporter, any news that Fletch will, indeed, live another day still seems rather unlikely. Why? BECAUSE FLETCH LIVES WAS THAT HORRIBLE. A very informative Entertainment Weekly article outlines the whole sordid saga here.

NEXT EPISODE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960, ROGER CORMAN) & PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER (1973, CARL J. MONSON)

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Alan Smithee Podcast 73: Real Genius (1985, Martha Coolidge) / My Science Project (1985, Jonathan R. Beutel)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we party like its 1985 and try to keep our intellectual hats on – much like the authors of our two films, Real Genius and My Science Project. As discussed in our Revenge of the Nerds episode, there was a formative period in the decade of Reagan towards the social acceptance and respect for geeky, gawky intellectuals, at least so far as they could get down and party like the rest of us. This bra bomb better work, Nerdlinger!

Real Genius has built a considerable reputation as a cult comedy classic, surprisingly so, in that the film was not a financial success at the time and remains relatively unknown today. However, most everyone who has seen one or two scenes of Val Kilmer retains fond memories of his peak comic abilities, cast in the mold of the Bill Murray anarchic-slacker archetype who has ruled movie comedies arguably until present day.

Kilmer represents the best that archetype can be in Real Genius, a smart aleck who is actually smart, loves the ladies, defends the underdogs, and is not opposed to authority per se, but to authority figures like William Atherton who – whaddya know – was also a dickish authority figure in Ghostbusters the year prior.

Real Genius also was ahead of its time to the degree that some of the nerds in the film are quirky in ways that are true to life, rather than possessing cheap sitcom quirk, whether they’re Michelle Meyrink’s OCD nerdette or Robert Prescott as the bully-nerd Kent. Gabriel Jarret’s main character is also a sensitively portrayed wimp, and he probably hates Val Kilmer forever (geddit) for stealing the show and taking center stage on the awful theatrical poster, which misconstrues the film as some kind of madcap yuppie misadventure.

From a smart film pretending to be dumb to vice versa, My Science Project is a film with a lot of confidence and no brains whatsoever to get in the way of Fisher Stevens. Released by Touchstone, the story definitely has a kind of Disney-esque whimsy that could have made an entertaining movie for kids in more competent hands. Unfortunately, writer-director Jonathan R. Betuel of “The Last Starfighter” writing fame (and “Theodore Rex” infamy to come) doesn’t seem to know whom he’s making the movie for, let alone why his own film even needs to exist.

The main characters are high schoolers with less believable personalities than the cast of Saved By The Bell and despite the film’s Ghostbusters inspired poster promising a special effects extravaganza, the titular science project doesn’t begin to go haywire until halfway through the run time. Which means there’s plenty of time for the one-dimensional characters to twiddle their thumbs as Dennis Hopper earns a paycheck and star John Stockwell wishes he were still being chased by Christine.

All this, plus a tyrannosaurus rex (Bethuel really likes dinosaurs), props for the underrated Jonathan Gries (a basement dweller in Real Genius), and serious consideration of how special effects usually hurt comedies rather than help them in this young, fast and scientific episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.

NEXT EPISODE: SUPERGIRL (1984, JEANNOT SZWARC) AUDIO COMMENTARY TRACK!

Episode 46: The Dark Half (1993, George A. Romero) / Day of the Dead (1985, George A. Romero)

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Tobe Hooper. Wes Craven. John Carpenter. David Cronenberg. George Romero. There’s never quite been an all-encompassing label for these brilliant horror film directors whose bodies of work defined the genre’s standards in the 1970s and 80s. “Masters of Horror” was coined a few years ago to promote the eponymous TV series but falls short of the required gravitas. The divergent paths of these directors are as diverse as their styles: commercial failure and belittlement for Hooper, mainstream success for Craven, auteurist deification and constant reappraisal for Carpenter, art house gentility for Cronenberg – and of Romero?

George “A.” Romero, as he prefers to be credited, created the zombie film as we know it: post-voodoo, pro-cannibalism and Tom Savini splatter. That subgenre has had a lot more mainstream success than he himself. If there were a nickel licensing fee paid to Romero for every zombie film since his, he could easily afford not to cling to the public’s waning recognition with his recent Canadian cheapies that are little else but political polemics using the waking dead as decomposing strawmen. Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and now Survival of the Dead (2009) have been regarded as depressing disappointments by fans, making Romero’s long anticipated return after a long absence to his much-imitated roots somewhat the horror equivalent of George Lucas’s disastrous return to Star Wars.

The film which signaled Romero’s departure from filmmaking for almost a decade was another collaboration with Stephen King, the biggest name in 1980s horror pop culture and previous co-author with Romero of the films Creepshow and Creepshow 2. While this may have seemed like a good idea, King’s intellectual property still being a guarantor of some return on film investment and the two men being friends with mutual artistic respect for each other, Romero probably should have taken an example from Dino De Laurentiis and chosen to make a Stephen King movie™ with more raw materials for visceral entertainment, like werewolves or killer trucks.

The Dark Half is King’s story of a respected writer with an alter ego who writes horror novels, and who is then framed for murders by a mystical manifestation of his alter ego when he attempts to retire the name. This is pure solipsism compelling only to hardcore Stephen King fans who appreciate the in-joke surrounding King’s prior creation of his “Richard Bachman” pseudonym. Romero’s direction is competent. Fans of the evil twin genre – there must be some out there – can also delight in star Timothy Hutton’s dual performances as good Thad Beaumont and evil George Stark as he fails to make an impression as either. Instead of Hutton, Stephen King should’ve done another acting turn for Romero as he did in Creepshow.

Perhaps Romero should have retired with Day of the Dead. Considered a disappointment for many years for simply not being another swashbuckling action-adventure zombie film in the vein of his previous Dawn of the Dead, Day has undergone reevaluation over the years by horror fans and has come to be appreciated for what it does so remarkably well. The zombie makeup and special effects violence by Tom Savini are quite possibly his most accomplished and the peak of his 1980s golden era. The music score by John Harrison, also the composer of Creepshow, is richly layered with themes and variations that accompany nearly the entire film. The screenplay full of brilliantly terse science-fiction speculation as to the true nature of the living dead. The weakest link are the actors and some of their infamous overacting, yet the cast’s secret weapon is a gloriously over-the-top villain with wickedly bulging eyes and profanity to spare.

Day of the Dead was the perfect close to Romero’s brainchild trilogy; the crushingly fatalist conclusion to a world overpopulated by zombies while the living are unable to agree what to do about it. Then Dan O’Bannon made zombies a joke and people have been unable to be afraid of them ever since. That’s a hell of a spot to put Romero in, but he never should’ve gone back to the well the way he did. In any case, we hope this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast gives him his due.

NEXT EPISODE: THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976, JOHN CASSAVETES) & LESS THAN ZERO (1987, MAREK KANIEVSKA)

Episode 33: The Last Boy Scout (1991, Tony Scott) / The Return of the Living Dead (1985, Dan O’Bannon)

This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is dedicated to the memory of Dan O’Bannon, the director and writer of our good movie The Return Of The Living Dead. O’Bannon was a true genre journeyman, whose ideas for Alien (1979) have been influencing our pop culture for decades now.

While attending USC he acted and co-wrote for John Carpenter in Dark Star (1974) then began contributing to Heavy Metal magazine. Some of his work would show up in the 1981 Heavy Metal movie. In 1977 he designed computer animation for Star Wars and was hired by Alejandro Jodorowsky to create the special effects for an unmade version Dune, during which time O’Bannon met the artist HR Giger. After the cancellation of Dune, O’Bannon co-wrote the Alien screenplay with Ronald Shusett and sold the screenplay it to 20th Century Fox, who then hired Giger to create the now-classic look that compliments O’Bannon’s slow, suspenseful story.

The 80s saw O’Bannon’s most prolific period, with many credits including Dead & Buried, Blue Thunder, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars remake, Total Recall (once again with Shusett,) and most importantly his sole directing and writing credit; the zombie film which encapsulated, satirized, and reestablished the “zombie movie” as a genre of horror as much as Alien created the Alien style horror movie.

It hurts to be dead. Let’s all applaud him at home during the Oscars death clap.

Shane Black is nothing like Dan O’Bannon, except that he’s a screenwriter by trade with one hallmark series to his name: Lethal Weapon. Black may have also been a tad nerdish, but inside him rages a misogynist streak a mile long. The Last Boy Scout is a healthy exercise in the degradation of women, and completely fails at pairing Bruce Willis with Damon Wayans with any kind of humorous buddy comedy chemistry.

Directed by Tony Scott, this film is shot through a thick cloud of LA smog and exists in the nether regions between the post-Cold War death of violent and homoerotic right wing action movies and the onset of big, dumb and slick action movies starring a pair of big dumb names in outrageous situations. This period was also known as George H.W. Bush’s single term.

NEXT WEEK: 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT (1984, PETER HYAMS) & THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958, AKIRA KUROSAWA)

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Episode 27: Night of the Demon (1957, Jacques Tourneur) / A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, Jack Sholder)

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we celebrate Halloween with the first of two all-horror episodes!

Our good movie is Night Of The Demon, released in 1957. Most film buffs will remember director Jacques Tourneur as the man behind noir classics such as Out Of The Past, most HORROR buffs will know him as one of the men behind RKO producer Val Lewton’s series of moody, subtle and atmospheric horror films of the 1940s. Tourneur directed such classic titles as Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie, which have the common feature of showing you zero to no monsters and making you use your darn imagination.

Night Of The Demon, thanks to interference by a producer who was not ashamed of making horror movies, does show you a big honkin’ demon head in the first few and final few minutes. This heightens the suspense a million times more than if we were left to wonder gee, was it really a demon or was it all in Jacques Tourneur’s head? to paraphrase the poster. Fortunately he still brings all his noir composition and photography with him, creating a rather neglected horror classic whose old fashioned-ness stood out amongst the giant grasshopper movies of the day. Compared to a big flying demon’s curse, who could believe such nonsense?

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There’s also the lovely Peggy Cummins of Gun Crazy and aside from this film, nothing anyone knows.

A demon haunts our bad movie as well: A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is mildly remarkable for being the kind of bad sequel that throws out the rules and formula of the original. What’s really remarkable is how gay this movie is. An Alan Smithee Podcast does not mean this in a derogatory way. After all our first four letters are a-n-a-l. We don’t use the word “gay” to mean “stupid” – we mean this movie is such a blatant allegory for a gay teenager’s tortured internal struggle over his sexuality vis-a-vis possession by Freddy Krueger that the fact it even exists is astonishing. Just look at the poster! Do I embrace this female, or…the man in the mirror?

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With the new knowledge that both the screenwriter and lead actor were gay men, we attempt to peel back the forsk-er, layers of this unintentional camp classic and decide if director Jack Sholder, too, was gay. Given that his biggest movie The Hidden is about a dude entering other dude’s bodies, the odds are on yes. There’s little other explanation for how many basket shots and men’s asses made it past final cut. Listing everything inept, and everything gay about this film is hard. Rock hard. But we try.

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NEXT WEEK: THE STEPFATHER (1987, JOSEPH RUBEN) & HELLRAISER: BLOODLINES (1996, ALLEN SMITHEE(!!))

Episode 14: Gymkata (1985, Robert Clouse) / It’s A Gift (1934, Norman Z. McLeod)

In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and Matt delve into an action movie which couldn’t have possibly been made at any other point in history, Gymkata, in which real life Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas plays fictional Olympic gymnast Jonathon Cabot on a super secret mission to compete in a deadly game on behalf of our government…and only his ability to twirl around on horizontal bars and pommel horses will ensure his survival. Directed by Robert Clouse, who did much better with a similar story on Enter The Dragon ten years earlier. Check out this handsome GYMKATA fan site for further skills and kills!

Then, it’s several decades back in time and several light years away in content as the king of henpecked philandering drunks, WC Fields, heads out Californee way to inherit an orange grove – but not before surviving the wrath of children, the blind, and wimmin-folk. Okay, maybe these films aren’t as different as all that…these men are survivors. It’s A Gift is all killer and no filler from the director of The Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers and is one of the great comedies ever made, so check out the iTunes or direct MP3 download links below to hear us prattle on entertainingly!