Friday, September 19, 2014

A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda; black comedy, UK/ USA, 1988; D: Charles Crichton, John Cleese, S: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Tom Georgeson

London. Four criminals - George, Wanda, Otto and Ken - successfully rob a bank and then hide. Wanda, however, decides to double cross George and persuades Otto to snitch him to the police. Unfortunately for them, George already hid the stolen diamond and thus Wanda decides to seduce George's lawyer, Archie Leach, in order to find out if he told him where the loot is hidden. Archie figures what is going on, and then escapes together with Wanda to South America with the diamond, whereas Ken takes revenge on Otto by rolling him over with a steamroller.

Charles Crichton's last film, black crime comedy "A Fish Called Wanda" has an enjoyment value that depends a lot about the attitude of the viewers: it is going to be enjoyed more by sardonic cynics and less by the humanistic audiences. The first 30 minutes are excellent, and even later on do inspired examples of writing show up, with some comical dialogues almost reminiscent of B. Wilder ("I love robbing the English! They are so polite!"; "I wore dresses that had a higher IQ than you!"; "You just cannot stand winners!" - "Winners? Like North Vietnam?" - "Shut up! It was a tie!") and a clever story where every character wants to double cross the other, but the rump Monty Python crew repeats a few of the negative traits of their Monty Python days, namely too mean-spirited examples of humor and tasteless jokes, which become an excess - the running gag of Ken trying to kill an old lady, but always just inadvertently kills one of her three dogs, is too cruel, whereas the infamous scene where Otto tortures Ken with French fries almost kills the film. Likewise, as smooth as the structure is, all the characters are selfish which makes it unsuitable to root for them. The best job was done precisely by John Cleese as Archie Leach (Cary Grant's real name!) because his character is the only likable one, and the comedian truly delivers a brilliant performance, one of the best ones in his career. However, even that antagonism of characters has its moments, especially in the finale when Ken takes a delicious revenge on Otto, which ironically comes as slow as his stutter. Two years later, a similar crime comedy, "Quick Change", made a better execution of the concept, but it remained in the shadow of the popularity of "Wanda".


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