BEETLEJUICE - Golden Oldies On the Big Screen
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: My wife and I recently watched a couple of Michael Keaton comedies — ‘Mr. Mom’ and ‘Multiplicity’ — and got to talking about his range, which was initially unexpected, given his first few farcical films. But he proved his dramatic chops with ‘Pacific Heights,’ ‘One Good Cop,’ ‘Spotlight,’ ‘The Founder,’ and many more — and, of course, he earned an Oscar nomination for ‘Birdman.’ But one movie that his fans adore is arguably his wackiest, ‘Beetlejuice,’ which is back on the big screen this weekend, courtesy of Cinemark theaters. This was Keaton’s first film for Tim Burton and the next year Burton cast him as ‘Batman.’ My ‘Beetlejuice’ review was published in the Deseret News on March 30, 1988. As you’ll see, I was something of a dissenter, but Keaton’s performance remains a ‘Wow.'
Michael Keaton is almost unrecognizable as “Beetlejuice” — or more correctly, “Betelgeuse”; the film title has opted for a more phonetic spelling.
Keaton’s “Beetlejuice” is a freelance bio-exorcist, sort of an exorcist in reverse — he removes live humans from homes that spirits would like to peacefully haunt.
That idea alone is pretty funny and Keaton is zany, wacky and insane as a manic, wild-eyed demon. Do not, however, necessarily associate “zany, wacky and insane” with “funny.” Keaton tries hard but his character is so out of step with the tone of this film he seems an intruder in more ways than one.
Michael Keaton, left, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, 'Beetlejuice' (1988)
What’s more, he is largely a supporting player, coming on the scene occasionally to manipulate the film’s other characters to help him out of his spiritual trap, whatever that is.
“Beetlejuice” is rather short on explanations and there seem to be no real laws by which its characters must live. Thus we have the film’s central personalities, Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) as newly deceased spirits who are confined to their home with no explanation or understanding of death or what it means or why they are so confined.
All they know is they can’t leave because through the doorway is a place filled with sandworms that look leftover from “Dune.” At one point the couple gets a look at the hellish existence of some spirits but there’s no explanation as to why they are there or how any of this weird afterlife works.
If “Made In Heaven” made the afterlife seem off-kilter, “Beetlejuice” makes it seem cartoonish.
From Left: Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Glenn Shadix, 'Beetlejuice' (1988)
Soon Adam and Barbara find their docile existence disrupted by the house’s new owners, an obnoxious New York family (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara and Winona Ryder) that the friendly spirits half-heartedly try to get rid of on their own.
When they are unsuccessful they make an appointment with their “afterlife caseworker” (Sylvia Sidney) but she’s not much help either. Eventually they decide to call on Betelgeuse, a mistake they live … er, die, to regret. (There are also cameo roles fulfilled by no less that Robert Goulet and Dick Cavett.)
“Beetlejuice” occasionally has some charm, and Baldwin and Davis work well together (Davis reminds me of young Paula Prentiss), and some of the shtick Keaton is called upon to do is humorous.
But most of this is labored and heavy-handed slapstick in the Three Stooges vein, with far too many dry spells. The special effects overkill is also a bit much, making this movie look like a live-action version of a Warner Bros. cartoon on fast-forward.
“Beetlejuice” is rated PG for violence (albeit comic in nature), profanity and vulgarity, the latter mostly provided by Keaton’s character.