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BREWSTER'S MILLIONS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Brewster’s Millions’ was a popular novel in 1902 and an equally popular play some four years later. Counting foreign versions, in the ensuing 114 years it has been made into no less than 13 films. The two best-known versions in this country are the 1985 comedy with Richard Pryor and the 1945 version with Dennis O’Keefe. Now the Shout! Factory has given the Pryor version a Blu-ray ‘Collector’s Edition’ upgrade and has included among the bonus features the rarely seen O’Keefe film (which is worth watching for O'Keefe's over-the-top mugging and especially Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson's scene-stealing wisecracks). My review of the Pryor film was published in the Deseret News on May 22, 1985.

Richard Pryor is back after an absence of a couple of years (“Superman III” was his last film), and it’s good to see him again. But it would be more fun if “Brewster’s Millions” were better.

Not that it’s actually bad, mind you. It’s just not very good.

A rather laid back remake of the oft-filmed yarn about a man who must spend millions within a month and show no assets so he can inherit millions more, “Brewster’s Millions” is pleasant enough … it’s just not funny enough.

Pryor is Montgomery Brewster, a down-on-his-luck baseball player who finds himself the recipient of a $300 million inheritance (it was $10 million back in the ’40s … ah, inflation). The Catch-22 is that he must spend $30 million in 30 days with no assets at the end of that time — just plenty of receipts.

     

Lonette McKee, last seen in “The Cotton Club,” is the bookkeeper assigned to tag along and make sure Pryor is honest and above-board. But the law firm overseeing the estate is not so honest, and since it stands to inherit the money if Brewster fails, it takes steps to ensure that he will.

The film takes a while to get rolling but once it does the majority of its humor centers around Pryor’s becoming a ridiculous spendthrift, investing in idiotic schemes (most of which make him an unwanted profit) and spending thousands on friends, hangers-on and parties.

His best friend (John Candy), a catcher on their baseball team, at first just joins in the fun, but as he sees Pryor throw his money away, he and McKee try to help him manage it better. They think Pryor’s let it all go to his head but it is a condition of the will that he tells no one why he is spending his entire $30 million so rapidly.

There’s great potential here, and occasionally it moves toward fulfilling it. Pryor hires McKee’s fiancé (Stephen Collins), to decorate his hotel suite, and he in turn hires his own ex-wife (Tovah Feldshuh), an eccentric interior designer, to help him — resulting in some humorous “modern” furnishings. And at one point Pryor decides to oppose New York’s two candidates for mayor by urging voters to vote for no one.

     

The 1945 version of 'Brewster's Millions' is included among the bonus features on the Richard Pryor Blu-ray.

But on the whole, “Brewster’s Millions” just never catches fire. It fails to reach any zenith of zaniness that might bring forth the promised big yuks. I kept expecting to laugh out loud and never did.

Pryor is good, and he has some funny lines and asides during all the madness that surrounds him, but Candy is rather wasted as the best friend, with very little to do. Likewise McKee, Collins, Feldshuh, Pat Hingle and many other familiar faces seem to be merely window-dressing. (There is a funny cameo with unbilled Rick Moranis as an obnoxious mimic, however.)

Part of the problem is apparently director Walter Hill, better known for his violent melodramas laced with humor (“The Long Riders,” “The Warriors,” “48 HRS.”). Perhaps he was uncomfortable with a flat-out comedy. But some of the blame must also go to screenwriters Herschel, Weingrod and Timothy Harris, who also gave us the equally uneven “Trading Places.” “Brewster’s Millions” just seems loaded with setups that never pay off.

Pryor fans, and those just looking for a nice little comedy-fantasy escape, may be pleasantly entertained. But considering the talent involved, “Brewster’s Millions” should have been a lot funnier.

It is rated PG for profanity.