Skip to main content

Tell me, in all your calls has anybody ever impaled themselves?

Mixed Nuts
(1994)

(SPOILERS) The faintly desperate title says it all. Farces are deceptively difficult to get right, which is probably why so few writers try them anymore. That Nora Ephron should have deep-dived into this Christmas black comedy immediately after one of her most celebrated romcoms (and certainly the most celebrated she directed herself) only makes her errors of judgement look that much worse. Indeed, the only bits of Mixed Nuts that vaguely land are the ones with romantic twinge.

Much of Ephron’s writing here (with sister Delia) appears to mistake humorous for noisy, frenetic and laboured, compounded by a mismatch of comedy styles from the various cast members that rarely leads to anything creatively salvageable. Mixed Nuts is an adaptation of 1982 original Le père Noël est une ordure, itself based on a stage play, so one can merrily blame the French if one so wishes. Or simply a Hollywood machine that never seems to learn with remakes. One might commend Ephron for attempting to introduce an edge to Yuletide fare, but on this evidence, black comedy really wasn’t her forte (and let’s face it, the same year’s hit The Santa Clause opens with Santa being killed by the lead character, while a decade earlier Gremlins was one of the biggest Christmas movies ever, so twisted Christmas flicks aren’t that rare; Bad Santa remains one of the most enduringly popular).

To that end, Ephron cast by-that-point-increasingly-less-wild-and-crazy-guy Steve Martin – not content with their previous collaboration My Blue Heaven being a hot mess? – as lead character Philip, head of suicide-prevention hotline Lifesavers. He’s distinguished by an unsettling dye job (did someone persuade him it made him look younger?) and – ho ho ho, because he mans a suicide hotline, right – really bad people skills. At one point, fellow worker Rita Wilson tells him he isn’t good in person, but there’s precious little evidence he’s other than bad on the phone also.

It’s Christmas Eve and the team – which also includes Madeline Kahn, who can’t be bad in anything, but even she’s tested here – is facing eviction from Garry Shandling’s landlord. Shandling is awarded a good line (the title quote), but he’s only cameoing so there’s really nothing else for him to chew on. And what is it with characters buying Christmas trees in movies on Christmas Eve? That should ring instant alarm bells.

Also in the cast are pregnant Juliette Lewis and ex-con boyfriend Anthony LaPaglia, the former about as irritating as she is in every one of her movies that decade, the latter giving her a run for her money. They’re tenuously linked to the main action, as is Adam Sandler (he lives in the same building as the hotline). Sandler’s '90s shtick of gurning man-child was never my favourite, and he’s on particularly resistible form here… until he meets Liev Schreiber’s transgender Chris, who earlier called the hotline and managed to elicit the address from Philip. Sandler sings her a song that’s surprisingly sweet and amusing, for all it being in keeping with his goofy character. But then, the only half-decent scenes in the movie are ones featuring Schreiber (in his movie debut). The aforementioned, and one prior to that where Chris dances with Philip, and the overstrained, wacky hijinks abate for several minutes.

Other business involves Kahn getting trapped in a lift, a fruitcake changing hands, a trip to Rob Reiner’s vet – the effect of LaPaglia taking pet meds is, well… skip Mixed Nuts for Kramer doing likewise in Seinfeld episode The Andrea Doria – and a subplot concerning the Seaside Strangler. I’m tempted to give a backhanded credit for Shandling turning out to have been the Seaside Strangler all along, revealed after he’s been accidentally shot in the head by Lewis and his body has been disguised as a Christmas Tree (which may sound funny, but don’t be misled). Except that gets everyone off their criminal behaviour, and it isn’t as if they haven’t got form; a misunderstood instruction by Wilson early on (“Click! Click!”) led to Steven Wright’s depressive blowing his head off.

The climax finds Philip rediscovering his “help others” vocation when he talks LaPaglia down from a roof, so Ephron keeps her foot in the heart-warming festive fare camp, I guess. I’ve seen it suggested that all the characters are Christmas archetypes (hence Lewis giving birth at the end), but I shudder at the very thought of such analysis bearing fruit. Enough Christmas movies go great guns at the box office despite being abjectly awful that it may sometimes seem as if they’re a guaranteed goldmine (how else do you explain Surviving Christmas, Fred Claus or Christmas with the Kranks?). You only need one Mixed Nuts to evidence that even the public can’t be suckered every time, however.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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.

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.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

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.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
(SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bonds in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball, but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again, despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.