Friday, July 09, 2004

Video: The Man With Two Brains (1983)

The diversions of one’s youth always seem better than whatever crap the kids are into now. This is true even of dopey comedies; there’s a reason why the Bowery Boys still show up on TV. But I find it hard to believe that any selection from the oeuvre d’ Adam Sandler will hold up as well as this Steve Martin film does two decades on. Bear in mind that I did waste a good chunk of my high school years watching it endlessly on cable.

It riffs on the mad scientist genre and DONOVAN’S BRAIN in particular (a clip from that movie appears on Martin’s TV), but unlike most contemporary comedy you don’t have to know the source material to get the jokes. Martin and director Carl Reiner also include a wide range of humor: wordplay, slapstick, absurdity, sex farce. It helps to have actors who could play this story straight, like David Warner and Whit Bissell. (RE-ANIMATOR was two years away, so casting Jeffrey Combs as a creepy intern is funny only in retrospect.) Plus it features my all-time favorite cameo appearance.

The jokes are in service of a serious idea, one that runs through much of Martin’s work: what is that draws us to another human being? You can actually see how his Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr could fall in love with a disembodied brain voiced by Sissy Spacek. By the way, typing in that name just made my spell check short-circuit.

And then there’s Kathleen Turner, managing to be drop-dead sexy and hilarious all at once. She’d debuted in BODY HEAT only two years earlier, and there seemed no limit to how far she would go. Yet her career, like her BODY HEAT costar William Hurt’s, basically ended with the 1980s. Her last good movie was 1989’s THE WAR OF THE ROSES, her last decent part in John Waters’ SERIAL MOM. She’s probably best known now for playing Chandler’s transsexual father on FRIENDS, which seems like a particularly cruel joke. Once upon a time Hollywood knew what to do with actresses who were smart, sexy and took no prisoners. If Turner had been around in the ‘40s, she’d be a legend now.