DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A FISH CALLED WANDA (director/writer: Charles Crichton; screenwriter: John Cleese/original story by Mr. Cleese; cinematographer: Alan Hume; editor: John Jympson; music: John Du Prez; cast: John Cleese (Archie), Jamie Lee Curtis (Wanda Gershwitz), Kevin Kline (Otto West), Michael Palin (Ken), Maria Aitken (Wendy), Tom Georgeson (George), Patricia Hayes (Mrs. Coady), Cynthia Caylor (Portia); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Michael Shamberg; MGM Home Entertainment; 1988-UK)

 
"Wacky farcical entertainment."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

An outrageous rom/com/caper film, as directed by the seventysomething veteran filmmaker from Ealing Studio--Charles Crichton ("Dead of Night"/"The Lavender Hill Mob"/"The Titfield Thunderbolt"). He shoots for vulgar comedy, and puts together an energetic slapstick comedy character-driven diamond caper film. It has a convoluted screenplay, everyone is eccentric, and double-crosses are the norm. Monty Python performers John Cleese and Michael Palin hook up with ruthless scheming American criminals played by Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis, for some wacky farcical entertainment.

It has its hilarious moments that include goldfish eating, a vic sitting bound with french fries stuck in his nostrils, a dimwitted American jewel thief mistaken the London Underground for a political movement, the ongoing rivalry between the effeminate Brits and the crude Yanks (the culture-clash wheel that drives the film), an animal-lover stuttering hit man who mistakenly keeps killing dogs, and jealous lovers who are untrustworthy. It played better in America then in England; in fact, it became the most successful British comedy ever released in the U.S..

Four misfits: the Brits represented by Ken (Michael Palin), a stutterer, and George (Tom Georgeson), the gang leader, and the Americans represented by Wanda Gershwitz (Jamie Lee Curtis), a sexy con artist, and Otto (Kevin Kline), introduced to the gang as her brother but really her lover and a psychopathic lame-brained ex-CIA operative, pull off a large-scale jewel heist in London's Hatton Gardens. They then for the rest of the film turn on each other. George is turned in by Wanda and Otto, and is tried for the heist. He's the only member of the gang who knows where the diamonds were hid, and George tells the court to get a reduced sentenced he's willing to tell  his barrister where he hid the gems. John Cleese plays stuffy, repressed London barrister Archie Leach (Cary Grant's real name, given as an homage to the great actor who was from the same hometown as Cleese), hired to defend George. The proper straight-laced barrister becomes unhinged as he falls for the greedy seductress Wanda, who is using him to find out the location of the jewels. Archie also has to lie to his rich wife Wendy (Maria Aitken), who finds he's beginning to act strange. Under the influence of the raunchy Americans, the polite Archie stops being a wimp and goes for the diamonds and the bad girl.

There's a lot of Ealing in it, tasteless gags, and large dollops of American madcap screwball comedy, which should appeal to a wide audience.

Cleese cast his real-life daughter in the part of his daughter Portia.

REVIEWED ON 6/8/2010       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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