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Non-Review Review: The Man With Two Brains

Remember when Steve Martin was funny? I know, it was a long time ago, but think really hard. Remember when he was churning out consistently entertaining and amusing comedies which skirted the line of brilliance? Before he became the straight man to Alec Baldwin in It’s Complicated? The Man With Two Brains is a such a comedy. I’m not sure it’s consistent enough to justify the description ‘classic’, but ‘vintage’ fits it best. A vintage Steve Martin comedy.

And brains to spare...

The Man With Two Brains is part razor-sharp rapid-fire comedy and part Hammer horror spoof. Sorry, in the wake of Lesbian Vampire Killers, I feel the need to qualify that: it’s part Hammer horror spoof done right. Playing with all the tropes of the genre – scientists who can perform complicated brain surgery, synthesizer soundtrack, a castle, brains in jars, serial killers – and playing with each, the movie follows the attempts by Steve Martin’s doctor to perfect the transfer of one brain to another body. Or, in his own words, to imagine a world where the brains of smart people are kept alive in the bodies of dumb people.

Naturally there’s an even-further-out-there Austrian mad scientist who has perfected brain transfer without removing the top of skull. Trust us, that’s a huge step up from the screw cap method (which is, in fairness, childproof). It’s all brilliantly hokey, done is bright colours and with fantastically self-conscious design.

Although Martin’s brain surgery-related antics are arguably the main plot thread, the most memorable aspect of the movie follows his gold-digging wife, played by Kathleen Turner (remember her?). There’s a lot of romantic humour that derives from their obviously one-sided relationship and it helps that the two performers know what they are doing. Martin and Turner have a great comedic chemistry which helps these sequences work.

The movie works on the premise that less isn’t more. More is more. The jokes and puns and physical humour come quick and fast, with the cast and crew dispatching them as if they have some sort of unholy joke-firing semi-automatic machine gun. Of course, there’s a large amount of misses, but there are enough hits to keep you at least smiling for most of the film’s runtime. If a particularly physical joke doesn’t work, there will be a pun in about thirty seconds which will get you smiling.

The humour is very much on the ‘daft’ side of things, with certain scenes – such as Martin’s marital angst – played to the hilt by directing them as if they were entirely serious. In fairness though, given the material, this was probably the only way to play it.

What we have here is a solidly entertaining comedy. It isn’t as brilliant as, say, The Jerk, but very few films are. Instead, it’s an amusing comedy that is certainly worth at least a few minutes of your time to see if it can draw a smile from you. And, if it can, you’re hooked.

3 Responses

  1. This movie was always a favorite in the office and with the patients in my practice.

  2. Get that cat out of here!
    Martin’s finest hour and a half

    • I’m more of a fan of The Jerk myself, but this is Martin at his prime. It’s almost tragic to see him now – maybe his Oscar-hosting stint will be good, no?

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