Monday, June 19, 2006

Quick Change (1990)

The career arc for comedians like Bill Murray has become monotonously predictable. They start with light comedies (Caddyshack), then after a few years move on to more refined comedies (Rushmore), and next thing you know they’re hustling for an Oscar (Lost in Translation.) I guess if you can do good comedy, you can do anything. At this rate, that Stifler guy from “American Pie” will be the next Robert De Niro. Meanwhile, as our comedians gradually get more serious, a supposedly serious actor like Tom Cruise just gets funnier and funnier (albeit unintentionally.)
“Quick Change” is one of those movies from the slapstick phase of Murray’s career, but traces of the Bill Murray that was to come are evident. The film starts with a close-up of Murray’s character Grimm in clown makeup, with that trademark sad sack Murray expression and those eyes that never really smile. As Grimm proceeds to rob a bank, an outraged bank guard asks, “What the hell kind of clown are you?” Grimm responds, “The crying-on-the-inside kind.” That’s gold, Jerry! As the tale progresses, we learn that Grimm is a disgruntled civil servant from the city planning department. He only robbed the bank so that he could escape New York City, because “I’ve seen how this city degrades the individual.” Unfortunately, the robbery turns out to be the easy part for Grimm and his gang. Negotiating the urban wasteland of New York proves much harder, and hilarity ensues.
One thing I have noticed is that movie and TV portrayals of New York City have changed over the years. Nowadays everything is about what a great, vibrant city New York is. Back in the 70’s to early 90’s, though, New York was always painted as a dirty, seedy place full of assholes, perverts, and muggers. What happened? Did the city change, or did the movies just start showing a different side? Whatever the case, “Quick Change” (1990) is definitely part of the old, New-York-as-hell-hole school.
My only complaint is that this is one of those Comedies of Frustration. You know the type. Circumstances and other characters conspire to make a simple task extremely frustrating for the main character, and we are free to hoot wildly at him. (See “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “The Money Pit,” “Funny Farm,” etc.) The problem is that if a movie has halfway decent characters (which “Quick Change” does), I identify with them. So then I wind up feeling really frustrated, too. For example, Randy Quaid does a great job as Grimm’s friend Loomis, but I wound up wanting to kill the guy. It’s like, “Just leave him behind! Go! You idiots!”
Other than the frustration factor, “Quick Change” is good fun and classic Bill Murray. It’s worth watching if you have nothing better to do some night.
3 out of 5.

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