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The Films of Frank Oz

The Muppets Take Manhattan

Little Shop of Horrors

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

What About Bob? (October 29/17)

What about Bob? casts Bill Murray as the title character, a deeply-neurotic nutcase who follows his new shrink (Richard Dreyfuss’ Leo Marvin) to his vacation home and proceeds to make his life a living hell. It’s a pretty straight-forward premise that’s employed to consistently erratic effect by filmmaker Frank Oz, as the movie suffers from a lurching momentum that remains a concern from start to finish - with this vibe certainly perpetuated by Tom Schulman's often episodic screenplay (eg Bob goes sailing, Leo films a spot for a morning talk show, etc). There’s little doubt, then, that What about Bob?'s very mild success is due almost entirely to the efforts of its two stars, as both Murray and Dreyfuss transcend the occasionally stale material to deliver work that remains a consistent highlight - with the obvious chemistry between bob and Leo only heightening the decidedly watchable atmosphere. (And as typically entertaining as Murray is here, Dreyfuss’ progressively unhinged performance remains the movie's most entertaining and engaging element.) By the time the almost laughably abrupt conclusion rolls around, What about Bob? has unquestionably confirmed its place as an affable endeavor that isn’t quite the comedy classic one might’ve anticipated.

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The Indian in the Cupboard

In & Out (April 3/15)

Though it has its moments, In & Out ultimately comes off as an often painfully broad comedy that's rarely as entertaining (or as funny) as one might've anticipated. There's certainly little fault to be found within the appealingly high-concept premise, which follows Kevin Kline's straight-laced Howard Brackett, who insists that he's straight, as his life is thrown into turmoil after a former student (Matt Dillon's Cameron Drake) outs him on national television. It's clear immediately that subtlety isn't high on scripter Paul Rudnick's list of priorities, as In & Out contains a whole raft of larger-than-life, hit-you-over-the-head instances of comedy - with the screenwriter suffusing the narrative with jokes and gags of an almost eye-rollingly obvious nature. The film is, as such and for the most part, more reminiscent of a garden-variety sitcom than anything else, with the admittedly passable vibe due largely to the charismatic efforts of a thoroughly talented cast. (Kline's typically stellar work here is matched by a roster of supporting performers that includes Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, and Bob Newhart.) And although filmmaker Frank Oz does manage to wring a few chuckles out of Rudnick's heavy-handed script - eg an obvious highlight follows Howard as he attempts to "butch up" by listening to a seemingly sentient audio cassette - In & Out's pervasively manufactured atmosphere ensures that it peters out long before it reaches its underwhelming (and fairly endless) Spartacus-inspired finale.

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The Score

The Stepford Wives

Death at a Funeral (January 31/10)

Directed by Frank Oz, Death at a Funeral follows several characters (including Matthew Macfadyen's Daniel, Andy Nyman's Howard, and Alan Tudyk's Simon) as they converge on a country estate after Daniel's father passes away - with problems ensuing as a stranger (Peter Dinklage's Peter) arrives on the scene armed with some rather shocking news about the deceased. Oz has infused Death at a Funeral with a pervasively affable atmosphere that effectively compensates for the less-than-hilarious nature of the movie's opening half hour, with the likeable vibe perpetuated by an eclectic selection of characters that are drawn into a series of increasingly off-the-wall situations (eg Simon accidentally consumes a hallucinogenic, Howard must contend with Peter Vaughan's crotchety Uncle Alfie, etc). The progressively go-for-broke bent of Dean Craig's screenplay ensures that the film only improves as it goes along, as the steady emphasis on farcical elements translates into a laugh-out-loud funny third act that's rife with comedic misunderstandings and complications. There's little doubt that a big measure of Death at a Funeral's success is due to the efforts of a uniformly impressive cast, with Macfadyen's solid work as the movie's straight man matched by an eclectic band of supporting characters (and as effective as folks like Nyman and Tudyk are here, it's clear that Dinklage earns the title of MVP). The final result is an ingratiating bit of energetic silliness that'll surely delight fans of British comedy, although it's worth noting that Oz does a superb job of ensuring that the proceedings remain accessible for all audiences.

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© David Nusair