Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: Brewster's Millions

John Candy.  Richard Pryor.  Jerry Orbach.  Rick Moranis.  A story about one man attempting to spend thirty million dollars with nothing to show for it afterwards.

By all rights, this should be a great movie filled with hilarity.  The "rags to riches" story line has been done before (and done since), and this movie even came out shortly after Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd did a slightly similar story about the hazards of wealth in Trading Places.

So why doesn't this film really work?

I could go on about how Richard Pryor really just wasn't that funny when he was neutered from his stand-up persona (which, arguably, was his real persona considering how natural it seemed to be for him), about the holes in the story and fact that the script could have used a few additional rewrites and how the "romance" felt tacked on, but in the end it boils down to this:

I feel like I could have spent thirty million dollars faster and easier than Richard Pryor did.

The script continually falls on the same jokes where Richard hires people for an exorbitant amount of money to do trivial things for him.  He hands out large amounts of money for little things, buys parties almost every night, and spends a major chunk of his money on getting his old baseball team (which, I'll point out, fired him before he inherited any money) to play the Yankees.

There is one very clever bit involving a postage stamp, but when you realize he could easily do the exact same thing multiple times, it takes a lot of the drama out of the "will he spend it all in time."

And before you go around saying "oh, sure, it's easy to say you could spend the money, but could you really spend the money?" I'll list off a few random ideas to waste money off the top of my head:

Nina Ananiashvili, a name you might recall used to command $30,000 per performance at the height of her career.  The price of being a "lord" in England (which, let's face it, is worth absolutely nothing) can easily take up six figures.  The iVIP app costs about a thousand dollars, and is extremely easy to delete afterward.  Kopi Luwak coffee costs up to $600 per pound, and would be easy to serve to people on the street.  The A5 Kobe Strip Steak at the Old Homestead Steakhouse goes for $350 per steak, and they tend to sell 25 of those per night, so I know where I'd be eating every night with a group of friends.  A certain type of Italian white truffle goes for over one hundred thousand dollars per pound, and is quite simple to grate up over salads.  I need something that will leave no trace behind?  Day one, hire a squad of ice carvers and have them design something outrageous.   On a stage.  Under lights.  Then pay for the new stage, cause that's probably going to cause water damage.

That's all without really giving it much thought and with things I knew off the top of my head.

Heck, I'm pretty sure that a few quick Google searches could show me how I could rent a ridiculously expensive hotel somewhere in the world, eat a few ridiculous meals, and hire some entertainment for the evening and be halfway done in a week, tops.

Increasing the amount wouldn't help either.  We live in a world of Kickstarter, Patreon, and more than one website that lets people literally beg for money on the Internet.

If you can't find a struggling artist to blow millions of dollars on, you aren't trying hard enough.

Perhaps it would have been different if there were more attempts to make the disposal of money entertaining.  When you spend a lot of money on things, even things that don't tend to give any solid product back, you still tend to get gifts.  Something that might have been entertaining would be if Richard Pryor started investing in all of these hopeless causes and then started getting items in return as a "thank you" that he would then have to struggle to get rid of.  Thirty million dollars in itself is hard to picture, and numbers don't make for a lot of drama unless you use the number "3" instead of an "e" and make it about catching criminals.  Solid goods that we can see, though, that would help if we're trying to figure out how much of something there is to use up rather than guessing at intangibles.

Now, to be fair, the movie does try to do something like my suggestion.  An attempt to gamble on multiple long shots ends with a huge payout.  Selling successful stock and investing in several high risk ideas winds up netting ten million dollars.  However, we still have no idea how much he has or how much he has left.  Simply putting one of those fundraiser number counters at the bottom of the screen just to help us keep track would probably have helped matters.

With lackluster acting, a script that needed an editing pen taken to it a few more times (someone who's seen this movie please explain to me why we get four different descriptions of how long Pryor's character has been playing baseball and how far he's gone?),

You could easily use this story to tell another story (though, considering how flat the romance is in this one, probably not a love story).  A story of a person trying to buy their way back to glory would make sense, and this movie almost manages to tell that story with Pryor's character's baseball career, but it stops short of being good.  A story of spending a huge amount of money to try to fix large problems and causing more problems could be informative.

This movie had a concept ("spend money to make a lot of money") and then couldn't figure out how to go anywhere with it to keep it interesting.

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