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

The Best Laid Plans

Official Poster

Release Date: March 1, 2019

Genre: Comedy

Director: Michael LiCastri

Writer: Michael LiCastri

Starring: Linnea Quigley, Edwin Neal, Michael LiCastri, Yvelisse Cedrez, David Plowden, Keith Surplus

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

For those who have been following “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” for the past couple years, there are times where I will do special reviews and/or lists to change the format up. The next few weeks you will be seeing these types of writings. I have planned two separate movie rankings, one based on a filmography of a specific director and the other is a list of movies that have been shown on a particular show that is my current favorite show. For this week’s “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I wanted to share with you a review of a film I had an invite to watch. This film is the first full length feature from Writer/Director/Actor Michael LiCastri whom up to that point has made several short films including The Great Pineapple Debacle, When Tarantino Met Shakespeare and October 31st to name a few. The film is titled The Best Laid Plans.

Released in 2019, The Best Laid Plans stars LiCastri as Kevin. He along with his friends Allen (David Plowden) and John (Keith Surplus) are all college graduates who are struggling to find jobs. Kevin finds out that he and his family are about to be evicted from their home, so the three of them are trying to come up with a quick way to raise the money to prevent them from being homeless. They find out that a former classmate of theirs named Tommy (Brian Ballance) won the lottery, they decide to kidnap him to shake out just enough of his winnings to keep Kevin and his family in their home.

Michael LiCastri, David Plowden and Keith Surplus in The Best Laid Plans. Image courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

The Best Laid Plans is a relatable situational comedy filled with quick wit and dark humor. LiCasri creates a visual story of what many college graduates are going through during these harsh times while pointing out the newer generation’s desire to make some fast money with very little effort. You see it today with everyone wanting to be internet sensations or creating profiles on provocative sites where consumers pay money to view explicit content. In this case The Best Laid Plans takes the old fashion concept of a kidnap for ransom scheme.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of the three buddies. Their chemistry is the backbone of the movie and I chuckled at the banter between them. Each character is relatable and come from different backgrounds not just from family and economics, but educational as well. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite comedies Airheads where the three leads would rip each other to pieces over the situation they were in when they took over their local radio station.  The Best Laid features small appearances from Scream Queen legend herself Linnea Quigley and the Hitchhiker from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre Edwin Neal which will make horror fans jump with glee.

Linnea Quigley and Edwin Neal in The Best Laid Plans. Image courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

In terms of the technical aspects of The Best Laid Plans, the locations are minimal as LiCastri focuses on the development of the characters rather than shooting various spots for viewers to look at. There’s no fancy angle shots or shaky first person view. Instead LiCastri keeps the camerawork simple by making sure the essential characters in the scene are all showed in frame. LiCastri can create a lot with very little and those are signs of a good competent filmmaker.

If you’re looking for a good laugh that doesn’t require fart jokes or physical comedy, The Best Laid Plans is for you. Those who are first time filmmakers can watch this movie as a template to how to make a compelling indie film with little to no money. All you need is a great script, relatable characters, and a realistic situation to put them in. At a run time of 73 minutes, it is well paced to keep your attention.

Image from The Best Laid Plans. Courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

The Best Laid Plans is available to watch now on Amazon Prime.

TRIVA (Per Writer/Director/Star Michael LiCastri)

AUDIO CLIPS

The Only People Who Hate Dysentery
Calling It The Man-child
Aladdin Defense
I’m Going To Start A Business
Crepes
How Did The Research Go?
That Guy Is So Hardcore
We’re Going To Take Some of His Money
Where Are The Cookies?
Edwin Neal and Linnea Quigley
How Long Do You Think It’ll Take To Finish All That Weed?
Afraid of Knocking on a Window
Shotgun
You Kidnapped Me For My Lotto Winnings?
Draw Straws
You Going To Give Us The Money?
Intentionally Trying To Shit Myself