Clifford

Official Poster

Release Date: April 1, 1994

Genre: Comedy  

Director: Paul Flaherty    

Writers: William Porter (as Jay Dee Rock) & Steven Kampmann (as Bobby von Hayes)

Starring: Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Colman, Richard Kind

Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of Charles Grodin. Thank you for the laughs.

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Does anyone remember the move Three Amigos which was the 1986 comedy starring Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short? I had watched it recently after not having seen it in over twenty years. It featured three Saturday Night Live alums. While Steve Martin and Chevy Chase went on to be leading comedic stars on film, Martin short was left behind. Sure, he’s been a great supporting actor on film, but I couldn’t quite name a starring movie role for him. That is until I discovered that one of the first movies I saw Short in is available to watch on HBO Max. It’s a movie that would play all the time on Comedy Central just as I was getting home from school. It’s been twenty-five years since this movie’s initial release, and this is one that is truly a “Guilty Pleasure Film” for me. For this review, we’re going back to 1994 with Clifford!

The film starts out in the future as Father Clifford Daniels catches a boy trying to leave the orphanage. He sits down with the boy to discuss his reasons for leaving which then Clifford breaks into a moment in his childhood. The flashback is where the movie picks up. Clifford is a ten-year-old boy (You guessed it. Short, a forty-something man at this time is playing a ten-year-old boy) who has severe ADHD (which is caused by a high sugar intake as you will see in various points of the movie) and carries his recorder and his toy dinosaur named Stefan which he always carried in his pocket. He is in an airplane with his parents going to Hawaii for a convention. After hearing that the plane is flying over Los Angeles, Clifford asks if the plane will be landing there so he can go to Dinosaur World, the theme park of his dreams. After finding out it’s not stopping, Clifford goes into the cockpit of the plane and shut down the engines to which the plane must land in Los Angeles. As a result of this, Clifford is banned from the flight. Worried that he’ll miss the convention, Clifford’s father (Richard Kind) calls up his estranged brother Martin (Charles Grodin) who lives in Los Angeles and asks if he would look at him. Martin, a big named architect who is going through his own problems such as finishing a massive train system for the city and trying to save his relationship with his fiancé Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) who are at a stalemate over wanting children agrees to take Clifford into his home. And that’s when Martin’s world would be even turned more upside down.

Marin Short as the eponymous Clifford.

Clifford was shot in 1990 but didn’t get released in theaters until 1994. The reason was Orion, who produced the movie was on the verge of bankruptcy and they held off releasing several movies until they got their financials in order. The movie tanked at the box office and was universally panned by everyone, especially Roger Ebert who wrote, “The movie is so odd, it’s almost worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.”[1] and gave it a rare ½ star. Despite the overwhelming negative reviews, the movie has developed a cult status.

Clifford is indeed an odd dark comedy. I’m not sure what director Paul Flaherty or the writers were trying to accomplish with making this. It seems like they just told everyone let’s be as silly and weird as we can possibly be. I’m surprised Charles Grodin, a respectable actor stayed as long as he did, or he was completely oblivious to what was going on. The reasons that I do like Clifford not just because of the fact it was a movie that was played a lot during my childhood years. There are some things that I do enjoy about it, but then again, I enjoy obscure macabre comedy.

Mary Steenburgen, Martin Short, Charles Grodin and Dabney Coleman.

Martin Short and Charles Grodin carry the weight of the movie. Short portrays Clifford very reminiscent of his most iconic characters on SCTV, which was the pointy hair Ed Grimley. Like a ten-year old, when Clifford doesn’t get his way, he behaves badly. He gets triggered that he pulls out Stefan as a kind of security blanket. Some of his actions are even criminal in today’s society. It’s not until the near end of the movie where he realizes why his family is tormented by him. Grodin is the calm authoritative figure who slowly breaks down when Clifford continues to get to the best of him. He develops his own madness and when he tries to find ways of disciplining him, it makes matters worse. It’s as if both are playing Chess against each other predicting on who will make the next move. The cast of the movie is very small. The only supporting actors to this movie are Mary Steenburgen as Sarah who desperately wants children and when she sees Clifford she becomes in awe of him and Dabney Coleman as Martin’s sleazy womanizing boss Ellis who looks to capture Sarah’s heart for himself.

As for the jokes, it’s a blend physical comedy with insanity due to Short’s actions and reactions. Short makes great use of his facial expressions to crack a laugh or two. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Clifford takes Stefan out of his pocket and puts it in the shower just as Steenburgen is in it. They’re other jokes such as Short putting Tabasco sauce in Grodin’s Bloody Mary, Clifford’s dancing skills when he has a house party at his uncle’s after tricking him that he was leaving for San Francisco.

The movie ultimately failed due to its shear psychoticism and emotional issues between the two lead characters. There are moments in the film which could be depicted as negligence, kidnapping, and endangering the well-being of a child. Not to mention that when Clifford gets bad news he goes into this trance where he will do things such as eating everything in sight, demanding chocolate or creating something just out of nowhere to get even. This movie would not be possible to make today.

Marin Short and Charles Grodin

So, if you’re daring enough to watch Clifford you will be in for a comedic experience like no other. If you like madness mixed in with your comedy, then this movie will be right up your alley. My advice though is to not show this to any young children. They could learn some dastardly things watching Martin Short and his antics.

[1] Clifford Roger Ebert review

Trivia (Per IMDB)

  • Originally filmed in 1990.
  • Although planned for a 1991 release, Clifford became one of many films (including RoboCop 3 (1993)) produced by Orion and filmed years before its release date. The reason it was not released until 1994 was due to company Orion’s pending bankruptcy, and not because of bad press screenings, as some sources claim.
  • Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen were also a couple in the movie It Runs in the Family (1994).
  • Martin Short’s co-stars are usually standing on boxes and next to slightly oversize props.

AUDIO CLIPS

Dreams of Days In The Circus
Haven’t You Heard of the Word Sofa Bed?
Mrs. Extra Wide Load
Larry The Scary Rex
I You, Clinton
Bestest Looking Wig I’ve Ever Seen
Get Me The Bunny
An Authority On Wigs
What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?
I Don’t Want To Make This About Lighting
Leave The Dinosaur There
I’ll Get Him Later
Evil Little Monster
You Look Like Willie Nelson
Uncle Ten Most Wanted

Dirty Work

Official Poster

Release Date: June 12, 1998

Genre: Comedy

Director: Bob Saget 

Writers: Norm MacDonald, Frank Sebastiano & Fred Wolf  

Starring: Norm MacDonald, Jack Warden, Artie Lange, Taylor Howard, Chevy Chase, Christopher McDonald

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello, readers! For this edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” I wanted to dive into another comedy film. A comedy starring one of the more underrated comedians of the 90s. A man who got fired from Saturday Night Live because one of the executives at NBC claimed he was “not funny.” (on the contra-ire). I’m talking about Norm MacDonald. If you’re not familiar with Norm MacDonald, his comedy is brutally outspoken opinions that is delivered in a sarcastic monotone delivery. He was known on Saturday Night Live as the “Weekend Update” anchor, who would start the beginning of the skit with, “Here’s the fake news!” (sound familiar?) MacDonald was known on “Weekend Update” for his constant bashing of Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson. After being dismissed from SNL, he would go on to star in his first comedic outing, 1998’s Dirty Work!

In Dirty Work MacDonald plays Mitch Weaver, a down and out loser. After being fired from his fourteenth job in two months and his girlfriend kicking him out of their apartment, he goes to live with his best friend, Sam McKenna (Artie Lange) and his dad, whom they refer to as ‘Pops’ (Jack Warden). During a night watching television Pops has a heart attack and is in the hospital. The treating physician, Dr. Farthing (Chevy Chase) informs Mitch and Sam that Pops needs a heart transplant and needs $50,000 for the transplant. Mitch and Sam do various odd jobs to get the money. After an event at their jobs where they were paid by their co-workers to embarrass their boss, they start a revenge for hire business called “Dirty Work!” Their concept is for people to pay them to do their dirty work. With this new business they hope to raise the funds in time and save Pop’s life.

Norm MacDonald getting strangled by Jack Warden

Not only is this Norm MacDonald’s first leading role, this is the directorial debut of Bob Saget (yes, THAT Bob Saget). Together they create a movie that has plenty of sleazy jokes, cringe-worthy moments and even a lightweight love story.  It’s an interesting concept by MacDonald which I’m sure came from the idea of getting revenge on NBC. It has a feel similar to “National Lampoon’s Animal House!”

MacDonald holds up good as the lead in this movie. He’s pretty much playing himself. There are times in the movie where he is repeating the same jokes such as bringing out a tape recorded and dictating a, ‘Note to Self’. You get the idea after a few of them. Some of the revenge schemes are bizarre in nature, but the purpose is to get rid of the nuisance that their client is paying them to do.

The rest of the cast has some familiar faces. Legendary actor Jack Warden who plays Pops chews up the scenes he’s in with his twist of humor and dirty mind. Chevy Chase plays the aloof and gambling addict Dr. Farthing. When you hear about some of the things he’s gambled on, it makes you want to shrug your shoulders and raise your hands in disbelief. Traylor Howard, best known for being in the sitcoms Two Guys & A Girl aka Two Guys, A Girl & A Pizza Place and Monk plays Kathy who would become Mitch’s love interest after meeting in a bar. She finds him funny and witty but is not amused when his business starts getting noticed. Christopher McDonald, best known for playing Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore plays local real estate mogul Travis Cole who hires Mitch and Sam to get revenge on a rival. My favorite performances in the movie are the small special guest appearances from Chris Farley who plays Jimmy, a barfly that had his nose bitten off by a prostitute and Don Rickles playing a movie theater manager. Look out for cameos from Gary Coleman, Adam Sandler and John Goodman as well.

Norm MacDonald, Artie Lange and Chevy Chase

The weakest performance by far is Artie Lange as Sam. He’s not very funny and seems to be concerned about the things Mitch is doing to gain money. Not only that, but his desperate attempt to get noticed by women is repetitive.  Norm would’ve benefited more by having an experienced actor play his best friend.

The comedy in the movie is a blend of physical jokes and MacDonald’s stand up puns. The majority of their jobs that they do for their clients are downright criminal although they seem to get away with it. This movie would not be made in today’s world. The movie clocks in at an hour and twenty-three minutes, which is pretty short for a comedy movie, but there’s no moment that seems to drag out.

One of the revenge jobs in Dirty Work

There’s not much more I can say about this movie without spoiling it, but if you were a fan of the 90s Saturday Night Live or a fan of Norm MacDonald, I recommend Dirty Work! I give the film props for coming up with something that has never been done before, a revenge business comedy. It’s almost as if this movie is in its own category since there hasn’t been a revenge comedy in recent memory. And if you watch this movie and don’t enjoy it, then you can pay someone to do your dirty work on me!

Trivia (Per IMDB)

  • Chris Farley’s last film, but he wasn’t included in the credits.
  • This movie came out a few months after Norm MacDonald was fired from Saturday Night Live (1975). When it was out in theaters, none of the shows on NBC were allowed to advertise it.
  • Howard Stern was offered a cameo appearance as Satan, but turned it down. Adam Sandler ended up with the role.
  • In the scene where Mitch (Norm MacDonald) and Sam (Artie Lange) are getting berated by Mr. Hamilton (Don Rickles), Don Rickles started ad-libbing insults. At one point, Don Rickles started insulting Norm McDonald, and not his Mitch Weaver character. This, of course, didn’t make it into the film, but the “baby gorilla” line, directed towards Sam, was used.
  • According to Chevy Chase, he was impressed by the original script’s raunchy, R-rated, “over the top” tone (particularly a filmed, but ultimately cut, gag involving MacDonald and Lange delivering donuts that had been photographed around their genitals), and went so far as to tell MacDonald and Lange to not allow any changes. However, the studio insisted on a PG-13 rating, and re-scheduled the film’s release from February to June, where it fared poorly against blockbusters like Godzilla (1998). Unfortunately, no alternate scenes had been shot, and the dialogue could only be changed with the actor’s re-recording their lines. This may explain why some of the dialogue is dubbed in certain scenes.
  • Julia Sweeney plays Mitch’s deceased mother in a still photograph.

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Take No Crap From Nobody
Didn’t Make It On Time
Sorry For Being A Creepy Old Man
Two Kinds of People
If I Were A Betting Man
We Lied On Our Resumes
Don’t Mess Up
Revenge For Hire Business
Installment Plan
Dead Hooker In The Trunk
There’s The Saigon Whore
Note To Self
Ridiculous
Note To Self 2
In The Land of Skunks
Remember When You Said This?

National Lampoon’s Senior Trip

Official Poster

Release Date: September 8, 1995

Genre: Comedy, Adventure

Director: Kelly Makin

Writers: Roger Kumble, I. Marlene King

Starring: Matt Frewer, Jeremy Renner, Valerie Mahaffey, Lawrence Dane, Tommy Chong

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

National Lampoon was a well-known humor magazine that ran from 1970 to 1998. The magazine formed as a spin off of Harvard’s Harvard Lampoon. The magazine was popular in the 1970s and spawned a series of comedy movies that included their title. The most famous of their films include Animal House and the Vacation movie series starring Chevy Chase. At the turn of the century, National Lampoon started a corporation and generated low budget raunchy comedy films that you would only be able to find at your local video store (which are unfortunately extinct) or streaming services. One of the last National Lampoon films to be released in theater’s was 1995’s National Lampoon’s Senior Trip.

It’s a typical teen comedy with a realistic plot. The students at the fictional Fairmount High School in Columbus, OH write a letter about how bad the education system when several students blame school for not wanting to learn and party all the time. The letter reaches the desk of the President of the United States who phones their Senator and personally invite them to Washington D.C. to help support the President’s new Education Bill. Despite the Senator having his own Education Bill lined up and seeking higher office, he intends to use the ‘slacker students’ to embarrass him and push his own agenda. The Senator arrives at the school and instructs their principal, Todd Moss (played by Matt Frewer) to get them to Washington on time. The road trip doesn’t go as smoothly and on schedule as the students get themselves into crazy shenanigans on and off the bus.

The students from Fairmount High School

I remember seeing the trailer for this movie on the VHS copy of Dumb and Dumber. I was a pre teen when I saw the trailer and it looked like a pretty funny movie. Unfortunately the movie was rated ‘R’ and I had strict parents who would not let me watch anything that above a ‘PG-13’ rating. Eventually the film made its way onto the small screen and I watched it on my local channel. I watched it with a friend and we enjoyed this movie. A decade later, I found this movie on DVD at a local store where I buy all my movies. Not surprising to this review, the movie still holds up.

This film relates to the experiences we went through in High School (although I’m sure none of you stole a bunch of beer from a mini mart, break stuff at a five star hotel or having your bus driver die on the way to Washington). You can relate to any of the character that best fit your personality in high school. If you were a computer nerd, you were the character Virus. If you were a straight A scholar, you were either Steve or Lisa. If you were a vengeful Trekkie, you were Travis. One thing these characters have in common is they like to party and they get along real well in this film (unlike real world where you were in your groups). There are some scenes of drugs and sex, but it’s only a pinch of it compared to most of the other National Lampoon movies or other teen comedies.

Matt Frewer as Principal Moss

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of each character. All of them had great chemistry together. Each character had their own standout moments. Matt Frewer’s portrayal of Principal Moss reminds me of a real life Principal McVicker from Beavis and Butt-Head. He’s very spastic, agitated and punctual and finds himself in uneasy situations. This movie was the feature film debut of Jeremy Renner. He plays the leader of the class named Dags who is a stoner and the vigilante of the school. His antics are praised by many and loathed by some. Then there’s Kevin McDonald who plays Travis, the school crossing guard and an obsessed Star Trek fan. He lives in his basement that is built to replicate the enterprise, carries around a blow up doll dressed like Uhura and he is obsessed with seeking revenge on Reggie (Dag’s sidekick). With the exception of a confrontation in the movie, there’s no explanation as to why Travis is out to kill Reggie. It’s funny seeing him trying to get to Reggie, but ends up being caught in an unpleasant scenario when things start happening to him. He talks to himself and only speaks in Star Trek language. I can relate to that because I’ve known quite a few people that were serious Trekkies.

The best performance by far is Tommy Chong as Red, the bus driver. In pure Tommy Chong fashion, he steals every scene he is in. He blends in with the students and praises them for their mad partying habits.

Tommy Chong as Red

This film manages to bring up a moral issue at the end. They talk about the importance of education for future generations. It’s funny how the students define themselves as the poster children of slackers and losers with no future as a way to get their message across. This film came out in 1995 when Bill Clinton was pushing for a better education program for kids in America. Maybe he watched this film to help advance his narrative? (Wouldn’t surprised me if he did.)

Senior Trip is one of the most underrated teen comedies to come out in the 90s. It may not be the cream of the crop in the National Lampoon film library, but this has enough chuckles to keep you entertained.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Film debut of Jeremy Renner
  • The bus driver “Red” played by Tommy Chong hums the tune, and sings some of the lyrics, from the song “Earache My Eye”, which was the song that Chong and Cheech Marin play at the end of Up in Smoke (1978).
  • Wanda and Reggie discuss a crossover between horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. This eventually happened in Freddy vs. Jason (2003).
  • Dag’s first name is never mentioned. But when Lisa is listing his good qualities vs. his bad qualities, it is seen at the top of the paper. Mark.

AUDIO CLIPS

No One Here
Van Damage
You’re Gonna Wake Up
Good Day To You Asshole
Travis The Star Trek Nerd
Mr. Spock, Your Analysis
The Magic Bus
Reggie
Open The Door
Bus Sick
Follow That Bus
Can I Buy Some Off You?
You Guys Know How To Party
You People Don’t Deserve Kennedy
How Did You Know I Like Chocolate?