Revisiting A Fine Mess: 80's Comedy Gold

A Fine Mess Laserdisc from my personal collection
I just don't post enough about comedy on here. There's no real reason really, other than I'm more attracted to action, sci fi and horror when it comes to the ones I want to write about. I love a good comedy though, which like horror, are really hard to come by these days. But recently I was browsing the Laserdisc section of a local used record shop and came across this one. I instantly snagged it up without even thinking twice. I remember liking it as a kid when it would play regularly on HBO and Cinemax back in the 80's. So I wondered if I would still find it funny as an adult, or if  it would ultimately prove to just be another lame 80's comedy that was funny as a kid, but not so much as an adult.

I'm here to report that not only is it STILL funny as hell, but it's also one of my favorite comedies ever. It just became that by the way because upon revisiting this, I was struck by how genuinely and consistently funny it was, and how it was a reminder of the type of comedy they haven't made in what seems like ages now. I guess you would call it a slapstick comedy? It's pretty much a nonstop barrage of physical comedy that comes at lightning fast speed, never slowing down for a single minute. I found this to be awesome and so refreshing with 2 actors at the peak of their stardom delivering a solid effort under the direction of a genre legend.

The story is pretty all over the place, but the meat of it deals with 2 friends named Spence (Danson), an actor, and Dennis (Mandel) a waiter, who stumble upon a scheme to win big at the race track when they discover one of the horses has been given a drug to make it win the race. When 2 hoodlums find out that they know about the scheme, they relentlessly pursue them to silence them. Meanwhile the wife of a mob boss has begun an affair with Spence, only for Spence to discover that this new fling is married to the guy who orchestrated the entire scheme.

I'm surprised that this film isn't mentioned nearly as much as it should. Of course when we think of 80's comedy, we tend to go straight for the classics like the John Hughes stuff or the Ghostbusters, Back to the Futures or National Lampoon films. Rarely are any original films mentioned in the mix, unless they were solely aimed for the teen market. And yet, here we have a film that's so naturally enjoyable, so full of energy and so legitimately hilarious without having to rely on dick jokes or flatulence to generate a laugh. When I watched this, on Laserdisc!, I was immediately put into a natural high. I felt like a kid again, with a huge smile beaming across my face. It's not funny in a stupid way, it's funny in a pratfalls and physical way, which I know sounds stupid, but I don't know, there's just something in the way it's done here that makes it different and way more effective. You can tell they modeled this after comedy duo's like Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello. It has that same kind of energy and vibe. Hell, had the film been a success, maybe we would have gotten more? Ted Danson and Howie Mandell definitely work well together, and each handle the physical aspect of the comedy well.  

Writer/Director/Actor Blake Edwards is a legend in the comedy genre, having directed films since the 50's. However, he'll most always be associated with his classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, 10, Victor Victoria and the original Pink Panther films. Yet he still has a large output of stuff that most people don't even realize he was responsible for. Around this time in the 80's, he was pretty prolific, directing a film or two every single year with the likes of Burt Reynolds, Dudley Moore, Bruce Willis and John Ritter. And smack in the middle of this busy schedule he delivered A Fine Mess, a comedy that sort of just came and went without any fanfare. In fact, the film was a flop and Edwards claimed not to have much of a memory in regards to actually making it, which is a shame because it's actually a very fun and pretty fucking funny movie. Adding insult to injury, Edwards actually wrote the damn thing himself, so I'm curious as to why he dislikes it so much?

What surprised me was that when I brought this up on Facebook recently, so many people either remember it and loved it, or had never heard of it before. So it's a bit surreal in the sense that those who have actually seen it really enjoyed it, and then also that there are so many others who didn't even know it existed, which is such a shame. I guess I can understand if you're not someone my age and didn't grow up a teenager in the 80's and we didn't have the internet. HBO and Cinemax were our form of entertainment during the summer, next to Nintendo and Sega. I fondly remember films like Commando, Explorers, Back to the Future and A Fine Mess playing endlessly on a regular basis. It also didn't hurt that as a regular television viewer, it starred 2 notable television actors at the time, with Ted Danson hitting it big with Cheers, and Howie Mandel as part of an ensemble on St. Elsewhere. 

The supporting cast in here will also blow your mind on a regular basis. For starters, Paul Sorvino plays the bad guy. But he's not a bad guy in the traditional sense, he just happens to be a mob boss but only gets sucked into the story because his hot young wife, played by Maria Conchita Alsonso, is having an affair behind his back. And Rick Ducommun (Art from The 'Burbs) shows up as an asshole boss, but nearly unrecognizable compared to The 'Burbs 3 years later since here he's much larger, with long hair and a mustache. It's really his voice that gives him away though. Richard Mulligan (Golden Girls, Empty Nest), Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue), and most shocking, James Cromwell (American Horror Story, Babe) as a detective who maybe had all but 2 lines in the whole film. Mainly he just stood there behind the other detective who did most of the talking. 

Mandel was really trying to break out into film though, so while on hiatus from St. Elsewhere, he starred in a few comedies like this one, Walk Like A Man and Little Monsters. His transition to feature films never materialized much after this though, and he mainly stuck to television series and made-for-tv films when he wasn't doing comedy specials or voice work. Now he's mainly become known for hosting game and talent shows. Danson was doing extremely well with Cheers, but also wanted to break out into film. While he has had some success with Three Men and a Baby and it's sequel, he also never broke out big into feature films, sticking primarily to television where he would star in numerous hit series and continue to do so today. All that is to say is that though they were both busy with a hit series, they still took the time to try their hands at big budget feature films. While this one didn't end up helping them transition to them smoothly like they had hoped, I'm glad that they did because regardless of it's lackluster box office, the film is as hilarious today just as it was 30 years ago. 

Sorry this ended up getting so long with my rambling. I actually didn't think I'd have much to say about this, but once I started, it was hard to stop. I guess I loved this much more than I was expecting going in and I hope to encourage any who haven't seen it yet to go out and get your hands on it. It's just a fun fast paced screwball comedy that seems to do everything right. 

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