Monday, July 4, 2011

Underrated & Still a Favorite

There are a lot of films that have come and gone with nary a whimper at the box office, while at the same time taking a substantial chunk of the studio's money with it. Some, with very good reviews, some . . . not so much. One of the latter is a guilty pleasure of mine, 'The Adventures of Ford Fairlane'.

This fine film, circa 1990, was directed by Renny Harlin, best known for'Die Hard 2' and 'Cliffhanger'. It starred Andrew 'Dice' Clay, a standup comic of some fame in the late '80s, along with a well known supporting cast including Priscilla Presley, Gilbert Gottfried, Ed O'Neill, Robert Englund and Wayne Newton. Not to mention cameos from rock, rap and R&B artists of the time like Vince Neill, Morris Day, Tone Loc and a few brief moments of Sheila E. Clay plays the title role, obviously based heavily on his iconic standup character. A sort of 'R' rated Fonzi-style detective in Los Angeles who specializes in cases involving the music business. Whereas Clay's 'Dice' persona has more of a belligerent edge, Fairlane is more easy going. He may make semi-insulting comments, but they come off as more playful than outright mean. The movie is done in a narrative style, with Fairlane giving a running commentary which both moves the plot along and provides some amusing observational quips here and there.

After an introduction scene, where you get a glimpse into Fairlane's style and job, the plot begins to take shape. Back at his office, Fairlane gets a message from an old pal, now a radio shock-jock named Johnny Crunch (Gottfried), who hires him to find a young groupie named ZuZu Petals (Maddie Corman), though Crunch is quite vague as to who she is or why he's looking for her. Shortly thereafter Crunch is dead and Fairlane is left with the mystery of why and what ZuZu has to do with it all. His investigation leads him into the company of record exec Julian Grendal (Newton), a socialite named Colleen Sutton (Presley) and drags along Fairlane's long suffering assistant Jazz (Lauren Holly). The pacing is good, with little time to get bored. The plot certainly isn't without its holes, but nothing that will likely pull you out of the story. As you'd expect, most of the cast play it pretty straight, allowing Fairlane to drive the comedy elements. There are exceptions, such as ZuZu, who is played wonderfully as a somewhat ditzy, but endearing music groupie who is as clueless about her importance as Fairlane is. Robert Englund provides an over the top performance as a thug with a British accent who is probably not quite 'all there'. Ed O'Neill plays a bafoonish police inspector with a disco fetish and a Fairlane sized chip on his shoulder.

Is this high-brow? Not even close. The closest comparison that leaps to mind is "The Hangover', though Ford Fairlane isn't as tight or polished, if that's the word for it. The dialog is where it shines. There are a lot of great one liners that make me chuckle even after multiple viewings. One thing that helps is that the film doesn't take itself too seriously. This movie will never endear itself to critics, but if you are just looking for a light hearted, if occasionally raunchy, ride with some laughs, I think 'The Adventures of Ford Fairlane' will fit the bill.

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