Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Director Report Card: Paul Bartel (1986)

This poster is hilariously bad.
7. The Longshot

Tim Conway is a performer who, I think it’s fair to say, had his highest period of popularity many, many years before I was born. Considering this is a film featuring other comedic actors who are probably best known now for bit parts on TV Land reruns, like Harvey Korman or Johnathan Winters, you can excuse me for thinking that “The Longshot” might be a movie for, you know, old people. It’s a movie about horse racing and gambling which, you might notice, are not subjects usually enjoyed by younger generations. The film opens with Tim Conway rapping with a pre-“Cop Killer” Ice-T, which just seem to further reinforcement my prediction of painfully unhip comedy.

All of this might technically be true but it doesn’t prevent “The Longshot” from being a funny movie, at least most of the time. The film revolves around a group of four losers who have lost a lot of money over the years on the ponies. The group gets a hint that one of the horse tamers has a secret that is going to make one of the second-stringer horses a sure shot at winning. After borrowing five-thousand dollars from a local mob boss, the guys go on a number of wacky misadventures to make sure everything goes according to plan. Naturally, of course, things go off the rails. Because we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise.

The movie was written by Tim Conway so the script plays to his strength as a performer. There’s a lot of amusing dialogue exchanges among the group and they frequently employ Conway’s trademark quick-paced, slightly mumbling delivery. Moments when he’s allowed to stammer nervously are preferable to the more slap-stick-y moments, such as a scene where he struggles with an increasingly more broken toilet or battles or battles a malfunctioning car gate. However, one slap-stick filled sequence is actually the funniest funny moment in the film. While attempting to seduce an older woman in order to get her involved in the scheme, Conway finds himself making increasingly more wacky mistakes, such as burning his tongue on fondue, or setting a fire with a cigarette, or sitting on a dog. It comes to a suitably wacky conclusion as well. All of this follows a run-in with Eddie Drezen as a carhop which features a cardboard car window.

The rest of the quartet are played by a grumpy Harvey Korman, increasingly stumbly Elton played by Jack Weston, and the dumb Stump, played Ted Wass. Stump proves to be one of the more entertaining characters in the film. He’s obsessed with his pet goldfish, Ollie. In another stand-out scene in the film, Stump’s falling-apart car slams into his rickety old trailer. He has to break into his own home in order to rescue his goldfish by refilling his fishbowl and throwing him back in. It’s inane and goofy but actually comes off as kind of sweet, especially he leaves a photograph of himself next to the fishbowl so Ollie won’t get lonely.

Other stand-out moments include the group arguing over whither it’s appropriate for a grown man to refer to his penis as a “winky” or keeping a coffee table clean by covering it with newspaper. The gang meets the mob boss at a restaurant. They repeatedly steal his calamari, Conway goes into a sneezing fit, Korman constantly has to backtrack over his partner’s mistakes, and Stump crawls under the table to keep it form wobbling. Another funny moment involves Johnathan Winter’s extended cameo as an eccentric truck driver.

The movie isn’t a laugh-a-minute gag-fest and its humor comes more from dialogue and the back-and-forth of its ensemble.  So there are some long stretches without laughs. If anything, the horse-racing stuff comes off as a bit of a distraction from all the wackiness around it. The musical score for the film is aggravatingly wacky and overdone. The rest of the soundtrack, from the embarrassing rap intro to a pop song from Irene “Flashdance” Cera that doesn’t really fit the material, isn’t any better.

“The Longshot” is really a showcase for Conway and his friends. There’s not a whole lot of Paul Bartel here and I suspect it was a work-for-hire job for him. Despite that, it’s actually one of the director’s better films from his mid-eighties output. It’s a fairly light-weight, disposable, kind of forgettable comedy that still is good for a handful of healthy laughs. [Grade: B-]

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