The Films of Melvin Frank
The Facts of Life
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell
A Touch of Class
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (July 31/18)
Based on a play by Neil Simon, The Prisoner of Second Avenue follows Jack Lemmon's Mel Edison as he attempts to cope with a series of personal disasters (eg he loses his job, his home is robbed, etc) - with the movie detailing the almost impressively strong bond between Mel and his long-suffering wife, Edna (Anne Bancroft). It's certainly (and ultimately) not surprising to discover that The Prisoner of Second Avenue possesses a somewhat stagy feel, as the majority of the proceedings unfold within Mel and Edna's small New York City apartment - although, to be fair, director Melvin Frank does a nice job of occasionally moving the narrative to various outside locations (including a rather memorable sequence in which Lemmon's irate protagonist chases a local youth, played by Sylvester Stallone, through Central Park). And although there's not much in the way of momentum at work here - the film is really only effective in starts and fits, for the most part - The Prisoner of Second Avenue benefits substantially from Lemmon's typically stellar turn as the aggrieved central character (and it's clear, too, that Bancroft's solid work perpetuates the mostly watchable atmosphere). Lemmon is so effective here, in fact, that the movie demonstrably suffers when he's not onscreen, and although Frank has peppered the film with a handful of standout interludes (eg a surprisingly emotional moment between the main characters), The Prisoner of Second Avenue can't help, in the end, but come off as a watchable yet far-from-flawless adaptation.
The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox
Lost and Found
Walk Like a Man (March 21/04)
With a surefire premise - a man raised by wolves is reintegrated into high society - Walk Like a Man seems as though it should be a classic '80s wacky comedy, along the lines of Weekend at Bernie's (both films even share the same writer, Robert Klane). But the majority of the comedy in Walk Like a Man, which follows Howie Mandel's feral Bobo as he's rescued from the wilderness and reintegrated into society by a plucky scientist (Amy Steel's Penny), is played far too broadly, which ultimately does ensure that small children will find the most to embrace here. Walk Like a Man's been directed by Melvin Frank, and there isn't an ounce of style to be found here, although this isn't exactly the sort of film that's crying out for Scorsese-esque camerawork. That kind of simplicity extends to the screenplay, which is packed with obvious jokes and over-the-top characterizations - with this complaint rendered somewhat moot, admittedly, when one considers the film's out-there storyline. There's one effective sequence in the film detailing Bobo and Penny's trip to a nearby mall, as Bobo's agreeably fish-out-of-water antics (eg his encounter with an escalator) are the sort that should have been peppered throughout the film (instead of the countless scenes in which Bobo learns how to write his name, etc). Mandel is quite good in the role, at least, although that's primarily because it requires him to rely on physical comedy (and one gets the feeling that's the realm he's most comfortable in). Christopher Lloyd seems to be having fun playing a moustache-twirling bad guy, while scream queen Steel is effective as Bobo's love interest. The end result is a completely forgettable '80s comedy that never quite lives up to its promising setup, which is a shame, certainly, given the degree to which Mandel ultimately commits to his one-dimensional role.