Why can’t today’s Comedies take some notes from the ’80’s?


Brewster’s Millions
Dir: Walter Hill
Stars: Richard Pryor, John Candy, Jerry Orbach, Pat Hingle and Hume Cronyn

I have owed a friend of mine, D.R., a post on this film for some time now: let me say up front, D.R., my apologies for how long this took – and I loved this movie!  Frankly, I can’t believe I had never seen it.  I have a pretty damned good memory, and I’m sure I would’ve remembered this one.

Brewster’s Millions has an intruiging “what if” storyline, presented in a very efficient, entertaining, text book example of a set up.  What if this knucklehead minor league baseball pitcher (Richard Pryor) suddenly – literally overnight – had the opportunity to become a multi-millionaire?  As presented by the pitcher’s long-lost, dying grandfather via VHS video, the catch is that he has to spend $30 million dollars in 30 days.  At the end of that time, he can’t have one cent to his name.  If he successfully spends the dough, he will inherit (deep breath), $300 Million Dollars (I think that deserves capitalization).  This set-up, delivered by veteran character actor Hume Cronyn is spectacular.  By this time in the movie, we agree with Hume that Pryor’s character is a bit of a goofball since we’ve already seen Pryor in a bar fight and thrown in jail.  We are entertained by this knucklehead nonetheless.  And needless to say, we’re interested to see how he’s going to try and get through the cash because frankly, we wouldn’t have much of a movie if he declined the opportunity to spend the $30 million in return for $1 million and no questions asked. 

Brewster’s Millions had several other elements going for it.  Walter Hill, the director, is a veteran who seems to concern himself with pretty great stories (he’s one of the folks responsible for titles like the Alien series, Red Heat, The Warriors and more…).  I’ve already touched on Pryor’s popularity: this role wasn’t exactly a stretch for him.  Plus, he was surrounded by a talented supporting cast (listed above).  Brewster’s even had a pretty thought provoking story element in Act 2: what if he could get through the money by spending it all on a politcal campaign urging all voters NOT to vote for anyone!  I relished this part of the story and was surprised that such a screwball comedy had this deep of a question for all of us as voters.  Movies like these work because it’s all about the “how’s he going to do it?”  They don’t try and go overboard…

This title is phenomenal take on the “fish out of water” story structure, driven by the zeitgeist that was “Richard Pryor” in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  A trail blazing comedian to say the least, this was – at least in my opinion – one of Pryor’s better roles that I’ve seen him in.  He was entertaining without going overboard.  I think of this film in the way I think of Anchorman or Old School: Will Ferrell was “reigned in” with both of those titles, while he was not wrangled at all in Blades of Glory or Step Brothers.

Which brings me to my bigger question for you, Dear Reader: I don’t know if you’ve seen Blades of Glory, The Other Guys, Tropic Thunder or Year One?  How about Evan Almighty?  Is it just me, or do today’s comedies try too hard?

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