“You can't go like that ... you're naked!”
“We're all naked in the eyes of the Lord.”
They've had their medication dropped, their group therapy sessions are going nowhere and even their doctor is beginning to climb the walls at the Cedarbrook Hospital, in which the mentally unstable Dream Team are incarcerated. So, to inject some fun and spontaneity back into their institutionalised lives - and hopefully give their treatment a respective boost - Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris) decides to ignore the advice of his fellow doctors and take his socio-challenged charges out into the big city to watch a baseball game. What could possibly go wrong when he's in complete control?
Taking the 80's vogue of high-concept, one-line pitches and applying it to an ensemble comedy, director Howard Zieff's Dream Team sees us in the company of violent habitual-liar Billy Caulfield (an irrepressible Michael Keaton with a bouncy mullet), compulsive-obsessive Henry (a slightly subdued Christopher Lloyd, with a doctor-fixation), Jesus Christ complex-ridden Jack (a wonderful Peter Boyle) and non-speaking couch-potato Albert (a snack-stealing Stephen Furst) and runs with the mental patients on-the-loose theme with an almost dignified approach. The comedy remains in character and the slapstick is reigned-in, but the film is never less than entertaining. This is the type of subject matter that the Farrelly Brothers could have a field day with, but Zieff's attention is diverted by a plot that sees murderously corrupt cops pistol-whip the unfortunate doctor, leaving him unconscious and hospitalised for much of the film, and the psychosis-addled boys on a mission to save him and clear their own maligned names of a killing they had nothing to do with. So, it's the farcical scenario of misunderstandings, mixed-up situations and occasionally meandering subplots involving the mal-adjusted individuals coming to terms with their own problems, that sees the odd bunch having to work together to survive on the confusing streets of the bustling Big Apple. And, in the expert hands of these stalwart performers, the results might be only rarely laugh-out loud funny, but still consistently amusing without resorting to the real issue of mental disorder in a discriminatory fashion.
“He was too violent for Vietnam.”
Michael Keaton has always had a dangerous quality about him, those madly arched eyebrows and an ability for quick mood-swing stood him in good stead for terrific turns as the manic Beetlejuice and, of course, Batman (the definitive Dark Knight until the mighty Christian Bale swooped in for the rage-fuelled kill) and he uses those qualities here with a clever believability, never over-playing the part. That he is also a terrific comedy actor is the only surprise, his flights of fancy and the insistent goading of his accomplices revealing a flair for swift wordplay and smart comebacks. His violent tendencies are ever-present too, but in keeping with his dubious hero-of-the-gang status they are only ever applied to sexist bullies, inanimate objects and, of course, the chief villains of the piece. That he manages to meet his ex, Riley (played with that irresistible Brooklyn accent by Goodfellas' Lorraine Bracco) is perhaps evidence of studio intervention - one of the team just had to have a love interest, didn't they? And the heavy-handed manner in which she ends up playing a crucial role in their mission to save their doctor from the nefarious cops - who realise that they shouldn't have left him alive to identify them - is too tidy a plot device to really succeed. But hey, I'm just nit-picking.
“Would someone please take me back to my room?”
Whilst the others in this motley crew are happily messed-up - Boyle's Jack is just revving up on his Messiah-persona with gleeful abandon and Furst's Albert may have potty-problems but he's still sufficiently pleased to be on the outside that he even takes pride in having his mugshot taken by the police - poor Henry, though, has the most deep-seated problems and the film does make some effort to address them. We see a poignant moment early on when the good doctor stops by his room to give him the news about the trip out - Henry painstakingly setting his clocks in quiet and studied routine. It's telling, however, that when the quack asks him if they have the right time Henry has to quickly check his watch just to make sure. And, despite Billy's somewhat clichéd rekindling of romance with his old flame, Henry has a wife and daughter that want him back and the madcap sojourn will allow Henry time to see them again. So the movie does contain moments when the tragedy of their conditions comes to the fore but, apart from Henry's situation, it refuses to linger on them for more than say ninety seconds. You can sense the makers' dilemma, the desire not to belittle its heroes, as even most of the fun that is had is at the expense of others, but also the need to convey the emotional and psychological pressure that they may be under. Even the stuffy, more authoritarian doctors end up doped out on Thorazine by the time the climax has sown up all the other plot strands, and it is clear that the boys have indeed learned more about themselves, and others, throughout their adventure.
“You got new shoes on and you're not drooling. I'm impressed.”
The thriller aspect works reasonably well amid the buffoonery and it is nice to see that it is fronted by 80's tough guy and Walter Hill regular, James (Sex And The City) Remar. There is actually some violence involved, and though it may be wrapped up quite quickly, it still sits rather uncomfortably within the parameters of a comedy. But, you may be pleased to know that this evil quality soon becomes childish, and ends up with all the threat of a Three Stooges sketch. But humour provides the main impetus for this zany tale and along the way there are some great moments - Jack's seemingly pre-ordained visit to a Gospel church is a standout, with his impromptu sermonising and enthusiastic singing a wonderful reminder of his turn in the excellent Young Frankenstein. I also enjoyed his knack of tailing off a lot of his religious rhetoric with a swift obscenity. He's also responsible for the smirk-inducing “Hit the road, Jack” routine in the van early on. And Keaton even chips in with a marvellous mention of one of my favourite horror movies, Wolfen (look for a retro-review soon, folks) to scare the pants off his fellow madmen. But the best bit comes when the team attempt to phone their hospital to explain of their desperate predicament and ask for help. Each man's psychosis plays a part and the witty script just seems to dump on them all the more.
“Fine. You be the doctor and I'll be the escaped mental patient.”
It may be kitted out with some nasty fashions and a glaringly naff, and dated, pop score but The Dream Team is actually a very enjoyable movie. The four leads perform admirably and the dodgy topic is dealt with far less patronisingly, or offensively, than you might have thought. It's hardly guffaw-a-minute stuff but good fun just the same.
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