Monday, December 19, 2011

Johnny Dangerously

Every, I don't know, 5 or 10 years, Hollywood decides it's once again time for a humorous pastiche of a bygone era of cinema. Usually those movies come and go without making much of a splash. Comedies are marketed towards youth, and the youth has little to no connection to or interest in the old days. But they always try, and hey, some of them are actually pretty good movies.

Johnny Dangerously is one of those movies that was on Comedy Central all the time in the late 90's. I don't believe I've ever seen the whole movie from beginning to end, but it's very possible that I've seen it in bits and pieces. I always enjoyed it, it's a really fun movie.

Made in the early 80's by director Amy Heckerling, Johnny Dangerously is the story of the rise of a prohibition-era Chicago gangster (played by Michael Keaton) who went into a life of crime to pay for his perpetually sick mother's medical bills. Meanwhile, his own brother (Griffin Dunne) is climbing the ranks of the District Attorney office. Not knowing that Johnny Dangerously (an alias) is his brother, he is determined to bring him in.

What follows is a fast paced barrage of silly sight gags and one liners, not unlike Airplane! or Top Secret!, the difference being that Dangerously plays them with a self aware wink at the audience, hell, even address the camera, whereas the humor of the Zucker comedies is found in the straight faced seriousness the actors play it with.

There's some really funny stuff in here. Michael Keaton is awesome as always, funny and mischievous and suave in the title role. Joe Piscopo found the role he was born to play: a cartoonish old timey gangster. Peter Boyle has some great stuff as Johnny's mentor. Maureen Stapleton gets some good material as Johnny's mother.

There are some great running gags throughout. I especially liked the bookends, where Johnny is telling his story to a kid at the pet store he now owns. Keaton is always maintaining his pet store business with the animals while he's talking, putting price tag stickers on dogs, polishing the turtles, etc.

When Johnny Dangerously begins the joke pacing is pretty fast and furious. Unfortunately, it can't sustain that rate through the entire running time. While still funny, the movie does gradually lose its steam as it goes. Some of the jokes are a little corny, but more gags hit than miss.

In my last few reviews, I notice that I've been throwing in another movie that might play as a good double feature with the one I'm reviewing. It wasn't intentional, it just happened that way, but I'm thinking of making it a regular feature of my reviews. Sort of a "if you like this, try these together" recommendation. With that in mind, I think Johnny Dangerously would play really well in a double bill with one of the Coen Brothers' most underrated films, The Hudsucker Proxy. Yes, that would make a pretty great movie night.

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