Monday, June 4, 2012

Nothing but Trouble

If I told you there was a 1991 movie starring Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and Demi Moore, what type of movie would you envision? You've got two of Saturday Night Live's biggest stars who had a string of hits in the 80s, a beloved alumnus of SCTV best known as the affable big man with a heart of gold, and the female lead from the previous year's hit supernatural romance Ghost. Most people, I figure, would expect a light comedy with some romance and slapstick thrown in for good measure.

In actuality, what audiences got from Nothing but Trouble, the sole directorial effort of Aykroyd who also wrote the script, was a $40-million spoof of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre crossed with the in-your-face weirdness of Beetlejuice that most people found repellent. The plot reads like a setup for any number of drive-in exploitation features from the 1970s: a group of rich, normal New Yorkers run afoul of a demented family in the middle of nowhere. In this case, the middle of nowhere is Valkenvania, a burned-out coal field and industrial wasteland. For running a stop sign, New Yorkers Chase and Moore wind up at the twisted courthouse of Judge Alvin Valkenheiser (Aykroyd) a decrepit 106-year-old Justice of the Peace who has bizarre and lethal methods of delivering punishment to traffic violators and anyone else who falls into his clutches. 

Presumably, Nothing but Trouble is meant to be a comedy given the cast, but it is a surprisingly joyless affair. I can only wonder what the financiers  at Warner Brothers were thinking when they saw the scene where Akyord peels his own nose off (complete with a crunchy sound effect). Or when a group of drug dealers are sent flying though a device known as Mr. Bonestripper, which lives up to its name by spitting their bones out at a bullseye. Or when the giant dumb junkyard babies Bobo and Little Debbull (one of which is Aykroyd in his second role)  start bouncing their hideous, greasy man-boobs and squeal about getting to play with Moore's character. As Ron White would say, "Things that make you go buhhh."

I should note the back of the DVD case says Aykroyd and Candy have "two tasty roles each." Okay, Aykroyd plays a disgusting old man with a nose that looks like the tip of a penis (no joke, that's what it is) and a giant grease-covered baby in a diaper. Candy fares a little better; one of his parts is a reasonably presentable cop (mutant families always have one normal-looking member to lure the unwary), but the other is the cop's mute sister Eldona who tries to marry Chase.  Chase and Moore, frankly, look embarrassed. It makes for a fun drinking game to take a shot every time Chase says something that could be interpreted as a knock against Aykroyd for getting him in the movie: "What is this shit?" and "Is this a joke?" are two examples that come to mind.

The special effects and production design are pretty impressive. The courthouse is this really bizarre funhouse filled with trapdoors, moving walls, conveyor belts, slides inside the walls, and an attic with thousands of IDs of the Valkenheiser family's victims (including Jimmy Hoffa!). The junkyard is an industrial nightmare: rusted metal twisted into weird sculptures, fires reaching out of the ground, and giant statues. The makeup effects on the Judge and his ilk are gross but well done for what it is. But that might be the problem. These aspects really belong in a horror movie, and they are so effective they overwhelm everything else in the movie.  A director like Tim Burton might have been able to balance the freaky aspects and harvest some humor, but Aykroyd lets all these dark, dank elements get away from him and doesn't really put them toward much of a comedic effect. It's just gross out that Aykroyd seems to think is funny by itself.

To be honest, Nothing but Trouble was a movie I grew watching fairly regularly. I loved all the dark and twisted stuff that happened and kind of relished that most people found the movie disgusting and impossible to watch.  Looking at it again, I must admit it's not very good. I still hold some nostalgic affection for it, and there are a few lines I think are funny ("Chris, you have a BMW. Act like it!), but overall, it should serve as a warning to studio executives about giving untold millions of dollars and complete control to an untested filmmaker.

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