I really have the hardest time reviewing comedies, especially parodies. Usually they’re light on plot and sprinkled with some pretty flat acting or poor acting from the bit parts. Parodies, in particular, can revolve from smart to completely juvenile. Not that I have an issue with juvenile, but it’s never going to score high with me unless I watched it while a teenager or drunk in college. (For example, Grandma’s Boy is awful, but had I watched it for the first time when it came out, I would say it’s a B+.)
But, I’m also a big big fan of anti-comedy. A lot of people see it as dumb, but I’ve always felt like it’s usually a bit smarter. I feel like when done right, it’s making fun of the audience. The joke is on us. I love that. A prime example is Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show. Lots of people justifiably call it dumb. I get that, though I disagree. But even those who find it dumb must feel like they’re missing something because Tim and Eric attract a lot of legitimate talent. Why are those people on there? Chef Goldblum, am I right?
So I read an article about Steve Martin and his anti-comedy beginnings and saw Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid mentioned as an example. Martin interacting with old movie clips? I saw one clip (where Martin lambasts Humphrey Bogart for how stupid the no tie look looks) and my curiosity was piqued.
But even with a great gimmick and some amazing dead-pan, one-liners, DMDWP still falls short of being a very good or great comedy. It simply couldn’t avoid what I mentioned above: the plot just isn’t great. Really, it was even kind of confusing, though that is partially as a result of the same gimmick that gives the movie its better moments.
Usually I’ll go through and critique some acting performances first. Hard to do that here considering we’re watching spliced footage from other movies. So really it comes down to how well Martin is able to bounce off of actors who aren’t there. Kind of like Transformers movies and the other CGI heavy garbage we see every summer. Or working with Vin Diesel I imagine. Martin obviously has good timing and presentation and that’s not a surprise to anyone. If it’s Val Kilmer here, I’m not sure I last more than 15 minutes.
So let’s talk about the gimmick? Does it work? I think so. There are some great jokes and lines that you think are throwaway lines that pay off half a movie later. The cleaning lady thing was purely absurd until it paid off in that old clip. The running gag on the tie was great. I really enjoyed the interactions with the dad, the guy in jail and the drunk on the barstool (You could be the Hunchback of Notre Dame.) Of course, this gimmick also makes having a coherent plot a lot tougher. There were so many characters in and out and by necessity, what they were talking about was never going to seamlessly fit into the plot. It may have been the beer, though I doubt I was the only one who found it somewhat muddled. They built a consistent world that was part ridiculous while still making sense, but they just couldn’t quite make it work all the way.
There were plenty of other parts that I laughed about as well. The joke about the “big tits” made me laugh the hardest. RIP Terre Haute. The too much jewelry in the soup line was played so straight that it ended up being so bad it was good. But hands down my favorite was the Java stuff. I just laughed the entire time. Even better were the java references down the road.
In the end, the plot confusion really caps this. A near perfect comedy caps at a B+ for me. Anything over a B+ on a comedy has to be something special. This is merely good and I would watch again.