Skip to main content

Listen, I've had just about enough of your comedy, clown.

Quick Change
(1990)

(SPOILERS) Bill Murray’s heist comedy was a resounding flop on release, one I nevertheless caught in the cinema nearly a year later when it finally limped across to the UK. Why it sank when the subsequent year’s (or the same year’s, if you lived in Britain) What About Bob? swam is unclear, since it came at a time when Murray’s star was commercially at a peak. Warner Bros gets much of the blame for failing on the promotion front but, revisiting the picture, it’s evident Quick Change is a case of a strong script in search of a strong director, and neither of its shots-callers are that.


Murray co-directed with Howard Franklin (who also penned the screenplay, from Jay Cronley’s novel), after Jonathan Demme couldn’t squeeze it into his schedule. Which is a great shame, as the energy Demme had brought to his recent pictures Something Wild and Married to the Mob (like Quick Change, a movie featuring a circus performer with a gun; “Some clown tried to kill me”, relays mob boss Dean Stockwell after Chris Isaak fails to rub him out) is exactly what Quick Change lacks; in this case, it’s the difference between a decent movie and a classic. It would, however, make a good triple bill of movies involving a night askew with After Hours and Into the Night, both exuding an exultant sense of strangeness Quick Change only grasps fitfully; Scorsese’s film is one of his best and most underrated, a perfect black comedy from a director who rarely strays into that genre, while John Landis nails his lead character’s insomniac excursion into the twilight zone with aplomb.


Quick Change, though, is often so ridiculously static in composition and staging, you become aware of just how fully the performers are carrying it, and you credit their work all the more as a result (so too, Randy Edleman’s score is effective when used, but features too infrequently). Apparently Ron Howard turned the movie down and, while I’m not a fan of his work, he’d probably have ensured the finished film had a better sense of flow. This is a picture with natural drive and desperation in its DNA, and it would have taken very little to wind that up to the maximum. Murray’s Grimm stages an audacious bank robbery dressed as a clown, escapes ingeniously with his two accomplices, Phyllis (Geena Davis) and Loomis (Randy Quaid), only to find his attempts to reach New York’s JFK Airport continually thwarted by the town he’s desperate to leave, with Jason Robard’s dogged Chief Rotzinger bearing down on him.


It’s ideal material to hang lunatic and unlikely interludes on, and imbue its characters with ever-increasing frustration at events’ determined resistance to go according to plan. In this, Murray’s deadpan charisma is perfectly posited, be it his vague attempts to suggest he’s a psycho (“I shot the lights. They were looking at me” he explains of the cameras in the bank, while pretending to be a Nam veteran), responding to Robards (a succession of clown one-liners all land), asking directions from some road workers (“Thank you guys. You could’ve given us help, but you’ve given us so much more”) or opining on the difficulties in getting through airport check-in (“Those damn terrorists have made it tough on us bank robbers”). This is Murray’s delivery at its finest, responding to each new incident with the same rumpled unruffledness.


He’s ably supported by Davis and Quaid. The latter wheels out his idiot best buddy for what was probably the umpteenth time, responsible for honking a horn and setting Rotzinger on their trail (“Sometimes their noses are horns” offers one of Rotzinger’s subordinates by way of explanation for how the sound might have emanated from within the bank). At one point, able to take no more of Tony Shaloub’s uncomprehending Arabic cabbie (“What, have you got shit in your ears?” Quaid exclaims unhingedly) he memorably leaps out of a moving vehicle, running straight into a billboard. Davis has easy chemistry with Murray, even if her role isn’t the most pro-active, and she’s encumbered with a second-rate subplot concerning whether or not to tell Grimm about her pregnancy. She’s at least rewarded with one of the best lines, though (“No, no if that was our plane it would be crashing”).


But it’s the incidental encounters that really sell this, from a surreal bicycle joust with mops as lances (“It’s bad luck just seeing a thing like that” gasps Quaid), to Shaloub’s incomprehensible antics, proving to be a thorn in their side long after they have exited his cab, to their encounter with the mafia (“This ain’t my dick in your back” exclaims Stanley Tucci’s gun wielding gangster; “That’s a relief” responds Murray) to their bus ride from hell, courtesy of Philip Bosco’s anal driver demanding exact change, unable to give an exact estimate of the walk between the bus stop and airport before offering a precise “21 minutes”. The bus sequence is particularly sublime, with Grimm desperately waiting in a very slow queue in a shop nearby for his exact change, responding to the local odours (“What’s that smell?” asks Phyllis; “Used wine” replies Grimm) and faced with a man with a guitar strapped to his back who repeatedly fails to make adjustments for the size of the door.


At the airport, Woody Allen regular Ira Wheeler offers priceless horror at whatever Murray and Quaid are up to behind a men’s room cubicle door (it’s an old set up, but it’s all in the delivery) and Kurtwood Smith cameos with a veneer of unrepentant obnoxiousness as the mafia guy in charge. Howard reportedly didn’t take the movie because there was no one to root for, missing that you always root for Bill Murray. Added to which, Phyllis’ pregnancy lends the picture an excuse for this trio not to face the long arm of the law, after which it is emphasised that Smith’s guy is a real villain who makes more in a day than Grimm could make off with in a week; I’m not sure the picture really needs to foist a moral hierarchy on us, but that’s in the nature of Hollywood studio think. If the criminals are going to get away with it, they have to be thoroughly decent criminals really.


Quick Change was previously adapted five years earlier, with the unlikely combination of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Kim Cattrall (set in Montreal), and I’d be surprised if it isn’t adapted again at some point. There’s little fault in the script or performers, but a director able to embrace its frenetic splendour could have engineered an unalloyed classic.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.