Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Coming To America


Eddie Murphy
Arsenio Hall
James Earl Jones

Standard formula for making a romantic comedy: Guy meets girl. Girl, initially, doesn’t want guy. Girl is involved with villain boyfriend. Guy persists. Girl sees villain boyfriend for what he is. Girl falls for guy. Guy blows it. Girl leaves. Guy chases after girl. Guy begs for forgiveness. Girl eventually accepts. They live happily ever after. Roll credits.

Coming to America starring Eddie Murphy, James Earl Jones and Arsenio Hall (remember him?) follows the above formula religiously. What makes the movie so good is not the story, but watching Eddie Murphy, a brilliant comedic talent, working in his prime, before such family-film atrocities as Daddy Day Care tainted his career.

Murphy plays multiple roles in this film—a wisecracking barber, the lead singer of “Sexual Chocolate,” and Saul, a customer at the barbershop—but mainly as Akeem, the crown prince of Zarundi, who has come to America with his prim servant Semi (Arsenio Hall) to find his bride, appropriately enough in Queens, New York. However, his father, King Joffi Jafar (James Earl Jones), thinks Akeem is going to America, merely “to sow his royal oats,” and that upon his return to Zarundi, he will marry his prearranged wife.

But, while attending a black awareness rally, he sees Lisa McDowell. It’s love at first sight. Aw. So begins the pursuit of the girl. Right on cue. He gets a job at her father’s fast food joint, McDowell’s, where she works in the office. He sends her earrings as an “admirer not Daryl,” which is the name of Lisa’s villain boyfriend. Taking the advice of the old coots at the barbershop, he tries to get in good with Lisa’s father. Though, when Akeem foils a hold-up at McDowell’s, gentlemanly beating the snot out of a robber played by Samuel L. Jackson. With his foot in the door, Akeem’s down-to-earth goodness and his inherent kindness, win over Lisa. Then, after the two overcome the standard obstacles—jealous boyfriend, disapproving father (on both sides), and their own hang-ups towards their hearts’ true wishes—they marry.

Coming to America, though, is far richer than the synopsis above suggests. It’s the comic subtleties that win me over in the film. For example, Daryl, the boyfriend, is the heir to Soul-Glo jerry-curl gel, and when he and his parents stand up from the couch, there are big grease stains behind where each of their heads were. Also, any scene with the in the barbershop, had he doubled-over in laughter—the inane arguments; the relentless name-calling; the absurd I-caught-a-fish-this-big stories, and so many others to cumbersome to list.

The verdict: If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you have seen it, you probably saw it when you weren’t old enough to get all the jokes, or you saw the censored TV version. So watch it again.

Peace out…yo.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Money Pit

Ah, an 80s chick flick. My kind of thing.

The Money Pit starts developing its dynamic characters early. Walter is conservative, but high-strung. He is a lawyer in the music industry, representing rock bands but obviously doing poorly at it since he continuously talks about how broke he is. His girlfriend, Anna, who is a violinist in an orchestra and petrified of commitment based on her soured marriage with her conductor, is seemingly carefree with a great deal of tension underneath that occasionally bursts out of her, contrasting Walter’s open passion and vivacity. The realtor that sells them their new house is nothing other than stereotypically crooked. Max, the conductor, is a rich, handsome, lusty jerk. Every character that enters the film is quirky in some way.

The characters pave the way for the story built entirely on Murphy’s Law. It’s almost difficult to keep up with all of the things that go wrong in the couple’s new dream home. The plumbing, the roof, the stairs—everything not only breaks but falls apart in the first day.

This movie is physical comedy as its finest. There’s not much intellect. There’s no moral, other than “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” and “If someone is selling a million dollar house for $200,000, no kidding it’s a con job!” It’s two hours of the characters experiencing various forms of comical pain and excruciating embarrassment. In short: absolutely hilarious.

But it’s a good romantic comedy, as well. The couple faces more hardship in a few months than 50 couples experience in a lifetime. They continuously speak optimistically about the situation, despite the fact that there is clearly no hope for the house because they love each other. They talk about how this will be a wonderful home for the two of them and how they can get through the difficult situation. It is Anna’s continuous relationship with Max that adds strain to this already less than fairly tale scenario. It completes the love story that her relationship with Max leads to her and Walter breaking up and temporarily hating each other. The lover’s quarrels are both funny and heartbreaking, only making it all the more romantic when the couple gets back together.

It is interesting that Walter keeps referring to Anna as his wife throughout the film. It illustrates several elements of the story and of Walter’s character. He makes it very clear in the beginning of the movie that he wants to marry her, but she’s afraid of commitment (isn’t that a switch up from the usual gender roles.) He continuously refers to her as his wife instead of his girlfriend either because he is dying to marry her or he is ashamed of their adulterous relationship, which he also references. Perhaps both are true. Also, maybe, just maybe, Walter’s referral to Anna as his wife is a foreshadowing of their future relationship status…

My favorite scene in the film is the scene with the kitchen fire. It epitomizes the comedic style of the movie. An electrical fire sparks and follows the circuit inside the wall. Walter panics and tries to put it out, only making things worse, of course. In the end, he is engulfed in fire himself, and the turkey in the oven is launched artistically across the property into a bucket in the bathroom where Anna stands filling up the tub with buckets of water from the fountain. When Walter makes his way to the bathroom, covered in ash with his burnt clothes hanging off him, the couple continues filling the tub with water, which causes the tub to fall through the floor. This is the last straw for Walter, and he begins to laugh uncontrollably in a silly, obnoxious, hilarious guffaw that lasts for several minutes, clearly summarizes his mood—he is so desperate that he can’t be angry or discouraged. He can only laugh. I, myself, was cracking up at this scene, though not for the same reasons as Walter.

All in all, this is quite a funny movie. As I said, not the world’s most intelligent or philosophical, but who needs that all the time? It’s a hilarious romantic comedy filled with delightful physical comedy and lovable characters that you can’t help but feel sorry for that they are really this gullible and pathetic.