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A FISH CALLED WANDA

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 2, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s another Oscar-winner, arguably the best movie ever made by a former Monty Python member. ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ remains a popular favorite 30 years later, as attested to by its recent Blu-ray upgrade with bounteous bonus features, courtesy of Arrow Video. And it earned an Oscar for Kevin Kline as best supporting actor (it was also nominated for best director and best screenplay). Here’s my review, published Aug. 5, 1988, in the Deseret News.

“A Fish Called Wanda” is not going to be for all tastes. Those who don’t enjoy the rude British comedy of the Monty Python school or the tacky British comedy of the Benny Hill school or the cruel comedy of the modern-day movie school will doubtless be offended.

But there is also an odd balance to things here, since the gentle sweetness of the old British caper comedies of the 1950s — “The Lavender Hill Mob,” “Two Way Stretch,” “The Ladykillers” — also pervades “Wanda.”

Do not be misled by that description, however. This is raunchy, R-rated material (for comic violence, sex, profanity and vulgarity, not to mention John Cleese’s nude scene).

But the story is definitely of the old class, with four jewel thieves — two Englishmen and two Americans — pulling off a major diamond heist, then trying desperately to double-cross each other.

     

      Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, 'A Fish Called Wanda'

The head of the mob (Tom Georgeson) is arrested right after the robbery, but when Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline head for the loot they find it is missing. Georgeson has hidden it, you see, and he confides only in the fourth member of the group, stuttering environmentalist Michael Palin.

So Curtis goes about seducing Georgeson’s defense attorney, naïve John Cleese, in the hope that he will lead her to the diamonds. Cleese, however, has the nerve to fall head over heels in love with Curtis, not knowing — yet — that he’s being used.

The plot is contrived, complex and very funny, but not nearly as hilarious as the individual scenes that move it along. Screenwriter Cleese has come up with dozens of very funny bits of business and some great dialogue exchanges.

     

And veteran director Charles Crichton (“The Lavender Hill Mob”) pulls hilarious performances out of all concerned, but an especially manic, crazed one from Kline.

Even more to his credit, however, Crichton brings out a lot of warmth as well, and Cleese and Palin’s characters are particularly endearing — despite some of the awful things they are called upon to do.

This is one of those movies that is so funny you don’t think too much about it as it moves along, and that’s a very good thing since it is made up of some elements that are actually quite mean-spirited.

But black humor can be riotous humor, and such is the case with “A Fish Called Wanda.”