Thursday, May 12, 2011

"A Fish Called Wanda" (1988)

Starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline
Written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton
Directed by Charles Crichton
Rated R - Language, violence, sexuality
Running Time: 108 minutes
Trailer - Via youTube

A Fish Called Wanda (2-Disc Collector's Edition)I've always quite had a fondness for Monty Python, particularly John Cleese.  I'd seen "A Fish Called Wanda" years and years ago and, much like with "The Cable Guy", didn't think much of it.  Either I was too young to appreciate it or it was just the wrong time... who knows.  Watching it again now, it's much funnier than I had previously thought it was, though it takes some time to get rolling.

George Thomason (Tom Georgeson), gangster and thief, along with his helper Ken (Michael Palin), his girlfriend Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her "brother" Otto (Kevin Kline) have just committed a heinous jewel robbery.  Unfortunately for George, Wanda and Otto plan to double cross him and take the jewels for themselves.  Unfortunately for Wanda and Otto, George was planning on double crossing them, and moved the loot. 

With George stuck in jail, Wanda decides to get close to his lawyer, Archie Leach (John Cleese) in order to try and learn where the jewels are if George should try to cut a deal.  But to do so, she must deal with Otto's growing jealousy as she gets closer and closer to Archie.  Meanwhile, Ken attempts to get rid of the only eye-witness in George's case, an elderly woman who is quite fond of her dogs. 

Though kind of slow to start, "A Fish Called Wanda" gets pretty damn hilarious by the end.  Whether this is a problem with the film or a very calculated risk in terms of pacing, I can't say.  The film deftly plays with the differences between Americans and the British, with Cleese's proper, uptight Archie clashing very hilariously with Kline's obnoxiously vulgar Otto. 

The cast is uniformly excellent.  Though not given a lot of time, Palin's subplot about trying to murder an eye-witness is totally hilarious as he keeps accidentally killing her dogs instead.  As his character is an animal lover, watching him anguish over it (and attend each funeral) gets funnier and funnier as the film goes on.  It also informs a very funny, rather absurd "torture" scene later on where Otto uses Ken's love of his pet fish against him.

There are lots of great running gags throughout the film, and just as many absurd situations that are played deftly.  Possibly the most British gag in the whole film has Cleese hanging upside down out of a 5th story window and dryly apologizing for insulting Kline's character.  It's an absurd situation played absolutely straight and it's downright hysterical. 

Still, there are parts of "Wanda" that fall flat.  As I said, the beginning of the film seems to take forever to start being funny.  Archie supposedly falling in love with Wanda feels underdeveloped, and her falling for him doesn't seem believable in the slightest.  These failings keep "A Fish Called Wanda" from being a five-star comedy.  As such, it's really the fact that the film is so hilarious that holds it up. 

So like "The Cable Guy" before it, I've re-evaluated my feelings on "A Fish Called Wanda" and come up with a new appreciation. 

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