Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Delirious (1991)

John Candy was a wonderful comedic performer that rarely found vehicles truly deserving of his talent. He prospered in wacky supporting roles in movies like “Stripes” or “Spaceballs.” His leading parts tended to fluctuated more wildly in quality. There's a reason you never hear anyone talking about “Who's Harry Crumb?” or “Armed and Dangerous.” Or, for that matter, “Delirious.” The movie was another of many flops, grossing not quite six million against an eighteen million dollar budget, that plagued Candy near the end of his life. The critics were no more fond of the film than audiences were. So, once again, I ask the titular question: Why do I own this apparent stinker?

In “Delirious,” Candy plays Jack Gable. A nervous and easily frustrated man, Gable works as a writer for “Beyond Our Dreams,” a popular daytime soap opera. Gable has got some problems. He's got an unrequited crush on Laura, one of the actresses on the show. The show runners are constantly rewriting his script and threatening to replace him, especially with his attempts to introduce some new characters. A stressful day concludes with him getting hit in the head by a trunk latch. Gable awakens within the soap opera's universe. Soon, Jack realizes the characters have mistaken him for Jack Gates, the bad-ass new character he hoped to write into the show. Later still, he discovers he can manipulate the universe's events simply by rewriting them.

The troupes and conventions of soap operas are well-trotted ground as far as parodies go. You don't have to travel far to find something making fun of the overheated melodramas and nonsensical plot twist the now dying format is notorious for. It would seem the filmmakers behind “Delirious,” including director Tim Mankiewicz who previously wrote several Bond movies and a couple of Richard Donner's films, where at least partially aware of this. “Delirious” is a somewhat indecisive parody of soaps. The first half is more about Jack responding to the ridiculous soap opera characters. (Which, in a joke that really hasn't aged well, includes a transvestite auto mechanic.) Its only in the second half, when characters suddenly start undergoing massive changes, that the parody aspect comes into focus. There's at least one good gag there, with a character getting super-advanced cancer out of nowhere. It's also sort of cute that the character with amnesia can't remember that he has amnesia.

Another reason I suspect this was by design is because “Delirious” seems more focused on its main character's ability to rewrite the world around him. This also ends up producing the film's too-few big laughs. John Candy rescues a girl by transforming himself into a hyper-competent martial artist. Later, he teleports a surprise cameo out of the film and sends him to Cleveland. After a night of drunken writing, Jack discovers that he's written his high school crush and some egregious typos into the soap opera world. These scenes also play to John Candy's strengths far better than the broader gags. Candy is funnier when reacting with shock and bafflement to his own decisions than he is during excessively wacky gags like a dramatic horse rescue going wrong or a blindfolded driving scene.

“Delirious” has a large supporting cast, most of whom work pretty well. Mariel Hemingway plays Jack's love interest. Mariel is given glasses, a unibrow, and a klutzy streak in an attempt to ugly her up. It doesn't work, of course, but Hemingway at least seems able to play off Candy. Most of the actors playing the soap opera characters happily go over the top. Emma Samms purrs every line as Rachel/Laura, the show's femme fatale. A young Dylan Baker gets some of the film's biggest bits of physical comedy, as the scheming brother struck by sudden illness. Raymond Burr, in his final film role, is nicely dry as the family patriarch. I like how he inherits a running gag about late cablemen. Disgraced SNL player Charles Rocket gets one or two funny lines two, as the guy in the eye patch. There's also a mildly funny cameo midway through, which I won't spoil.

Why Do I Own This?: So “Delirious' really isn't that funny. The film's few good jokes are bordered by quite a few lame gags and clunky moments. Candy is amusing and leads a decent cast but the material is not up to the same snuff. The movie choosing to veer into sincere romantic-comedy near the end, getting serious after eighty minutes of gaggy comedy, is a really poor choice.

So why do I own this one? As has been the case in the past, I blame misplaced nostalgia. I saw it on TV a few times as kid and even had a copy I recorded off television. I'm not sure why I was fond of it, as the film doesn't really hold up that well. There's another one for the discard pile. At least it's better than “Wagons East,” which I also recorded off TV years ago. Even as an impulsive teenager, I had the foresight not to upgrade that one to DVD. [5/10]

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