Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, August 29, 2016

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: King Ralph (1991)

John Goddman is a rightfully beloved performer, fondly remembered by an entire generation as Dan Conner, the tough but lovably grounded patriarch on “Roseanne.” Goodman has had a fine career as a character actor and has made his mark in films by auteurs like the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, and Todd Solondz. Yet he’s also a working actor. During his brief popularity as a leading man, he starred in mediocre films like “The Flintstones” and “The Babe.” And “King Ralph,” a minor hit from 1991 that is rarely brought up or mentioned when discussing Goodman’s best performances. So why do I own this?

“King Ralph” is one of those light-weight comedies that begin with a mass death. Following a series of unlikely circumstances, the entire British royal family is killed in a freak accident. The royal secretary has the difficult task of tracking down a remaining heir. That heir is found in the United States, in Las Vegas. Ralph Jones is a lounge singer and a bit of a slob. Ralph is plucked out of his usually vulgar American life and dropped into the lap of British luxury. Ralph, however, has difficulty adapting to the royal life. Especially once he starts developing feelings for a stripper. Moreover, forces inside the royal palace seek to discredit him and place themselves in the seat of power.

“King Ralph” is almost suffocatingly high concept. “What if a typical Ugly American somehow became the King of England?” Amazingly, the idea for “King Ralph” didn't originate in the mind of a hacky Hollywood screenwriter. Instead, the film is actually based (albeit loosely) on the novel “Headlong” by Emlyn Williams. I haven’t read Williams’ book but I suspect that most of the film’s gags sprang from writer/director David S. Ward's imagination. Ward’s other credits – both “Major League” movies, “Down Periscope” – are on roughly the same wavelength.

“King Ralph” partakes in all the expected fish out of water story beats. Ralph has the expected aghast reaction to British stereotypes like spotted dick, fox hunting, cricket, and stuffy royal balls. Uninspired wordplay is par the course for “King Ralph.” Its other jokes concern itself with lame visual gags. Such as Ralph performing Little Richard on the harpsichord, accidently tossing a Cornish Game Hen across a dinner table, greeting an African dignitary with Ebonics street slang, or having a weird encounter with a foreign princess.

It’s all fairly dire stuff, with the laughs rarely coming. When “King Ralph” works at all, it’s as a vehicle for John Goodman’s good-natured goofiness. He can’t elevate embarrassing gags about dart games or a deep voiced, kinky princess. However, he has a certain charisma that manages to make the bone stupid stuff mildly charming. Such as Ralph wearing the Royal Crown while taking a bath or misunderstanding phrases like “cricket.” Even while oogling a busty stripper, there’s an earnestness to the performance that remains likable. “King Ralph” is a deeply dumb, uninspired movie. But Goodman gives it his all. When prancing around like an idiot during the harpsichord assisted performance of “Good Golly Miss Molly,” he actually got a smile out of me.

The actual plot mechanics of “King Ralph” are deeply uninspired. Camille Coduri plays Miranda, the stripper that wins Ralph’s heart. There’s not very much to the romance, as Ralph immediately falls for the girl upon setting eyes on her. Coduri is mildly charming but the script gives her very little to work with. Naturally, Miranda is bribed by the movie’s villain into helping to discredit Ralph. (This entire subplot is mostly unnecessary, as Ralph does a fine job of discrediting himself.) As ridiculous as Lord Percival Graves’ villainy is, he’s also played by John Hurt. If Goodman’s affable charm makes a shallow character like Ralph likable, Hurt makes something out of nothing. He hams it up gloriously, having a ball playing a paper thin bad guy.

Why Do I Own This?: As is often the case with this column, I have no good answer to that question. “King Ralph” is another flick that I watched a few times on VHS as a kid. I’m pretty sure I grabbed the tape from a video store sales rack. Somehow, the movie got dumped in the “upgrade” pile during my mass exodus from VHS to DVD.

“King Ralph” isn’t totally useless. The supporting cast is packed with respected British thespians like Richard Griffiths and Peter O’Toole. O’Toole is especially amusing when acting incredulous to Goodman’s antics. And, throughout it all, John Goodman remains affable enough. Yet it’s a deeply mediocre product, with a totally by-the-numbers script and not enough laughs to compensate. Truly, another one I can not justify owning. [5/10]

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