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“You People are Sick, Wicked, Funky, Amisanthropic, Co-Dependent Animals!” Dan Aykroyd Makes His Directorial Debut With ‘Nothing But Trouble’

Have you ever gotten excited to see a movie and then decided that maybe you don’t want to see it when every review you read tears it a new a-hole?

That was my experience with the cinematic disaster-piece known as Nothing But Trouble.

In early 1991 I was excited about two things; my upcoming high school graduation and, to a lesser extent, this “comedy” starring three absolute heroes of my youth, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, and John Candy.

Aykroyd also co-wrote the movie with his brother, Peter, as well as directed the movie.

And it was distributed by the powerhouse, Warner Bros. Studios. Surely, audiences who shelled out 4 or 5 bucks to see this project were in good hands, right? Right???

The first sign of a stinker in the making would have been when the film was given a February release date.

In our current age of streaming, it doesn’t matter as much when a new film or series is released because the fire of audience engagement needs constant stoking. But back in the day, February was a dead zone where people were more likely to stay home and live lean after spending too much of their money on Christmas gifts and trying to figure out how they were going to afford their summer vacation.

In other words, it was where films that stunk went to die a quiet death.

And die it did.

It ended up making back less than a quarter of its $45 million budget. I’m not going to lie, while I wondered if this movie was really that awful, I hoped it would be better than expected.

It wasn’t.

The movie opens with a montage of the sights of New York City at night before introducing us to Chris, an extremely successful financial publisher played by Chevy Chase, doing his well-honed charming, comedic, leading man thing. But the sprouts of gray hair in Chase’s temples show he was an aging man and the act was aging too, lacking the coolness of his Ty Webb days. Peter Aykroyd, as Mike the Doorman, informs Chris that there is a party happening in his penthouse apartment which Chris is too casual to have even known about.

On the elevator ride up to his apartment he meets Demi Moore’s Diane, a lawyer who lives in the same building. There’s no two ways about it, Demi Moore is a stunner. This is far from the best performance of her career but she does the best with the shit sandwich of a script she is served. And it’s hard to take your eyes off her anytime she is on-screen. She’s one of the few bright spots in the film.

From there we find Chris entertaining guests in his apartment, including the brother sister pair of Fausto and Renaldo Squiriniszu. These two are there to remind the audience that people who speak English with a foreign accent are supposed to mean comedy even when nothing they say is inherently funny. Diane reappears and asks Chris, who she just met and had minimal interaction with, if she can borrow his car the next day to drive to Atlantic City without it being established if he even owns a car. Chris volunteers to drive her and, of course, the Squiriniszus invite themselves along. What’s important here is getting all the characters on the road to hijinks no matter what the flimsy reasons are.

Trouble finds the group when they decide to pull off the turnpike to find somewhere to have a picnic and unknowingly run through a stop sign, drawing the attention of the chief constable, Dennis, played by Candy. (I miss John Candy.)

At the urging of his passengers, Chris decides to outrun the law, compounding his problems. Two years before this, Chase took part in the memorable car chase at the beginning of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. That scene was funny and engaging. The chase scene in Nothing But Trouble just kind of falls flat. Ultimately, with the help of Miss Purdah, played by Valri Bromfield, and her assault rifle, Chris and his group are stopped and brought before Judge Valkenheiser (Aykroyd), the gelatinous, backwoods ruler of the fictional town of Valkenvania.

The town sits on top of an active coal fire that is just bound to engulf the whole town at some point. The judge has a perverted sense of justice and the tip of a penis for a nose. He also has a disdain for bankers like Chris. Chris isn’t a banker but his repeated protestations to that fact are ignored by the judge. Instead of being allowed to pay a fine and be on their way, the unfortunate travelers are dropped down a trap door and forced to await their fate. Then we’re introduced to some “dealers” led by a (non-Alec) Baldwin. Does it really matter which one?

They are quickly found guilty and put to death on a seemingly easy to escape roller coaster that mutilates them and rends the flesh from their bones. I think this might still be considered a comedy… but I haven’t laughed yet and the whole perverted justice and brutal slaughter of four people, some of whom were just passengers in the car, has me thinking maybe not so much???

This sequence of events really demonstrates the problem with the movie. Is it a comedy? Is it a horror? Suspense? Gross out for gross out’s sake? It never fully realizes any of these genres nor does it act as a successful marriage of any combo of them. And there’s nothing that the assembled talent can do to make the confusion any better.

Chevy Chase peppers the scenes with his trademark, under the breath quips but they didn’t draw any laughs from this writer because this thing goes off the rails so early and often that I forgot this movie was supposed to make me laugh.

The person for whom I feel the most is John Candy, who is not used for his strengths that he has shown in so many of his previous films.

His tortured constable, Dennis, is seemingly set up to be the hero-in-waiting who will right the wrongs of his family and save the day. Instead, he is written out of most of the film’s last hour. Sure, he does realize some heroism by helping take the Squiriniszus off screen but his character’s true potential is never realized. But I imagine the actor was lured in by the opportunity to play multiple characters as he spends the second half of the film playing Eldona, the Judge’s lovelorn granddaughter who has her sights set on Chris for marriage. But Eldona does not speak and Candy is forced to emote his way through the rest of the film.

I wonder who thought it was a good idea to take a guy who could always deliver big hearted dialogues, like he does in Uncle Buck or Planes, Trains and Automobiles and give him nothing to say?

There are some bright spots in the film. The sheer madness of the Judge’s house is to be admired. I’m sure the prop masters and the set designers had a fun time assembling the funhouse and surrounding grounds that look like one-part haunted mansion and another part hoarder’s paradise.

And the guest appearance and performance by 90’s hip hop group, Digital Underground brings a smile. Their appearance is a bit contrived but who cares? They add a little bit of fun to an otherwise boring middle act.

The end of the film doesn’t get any better than the rest of it. Chase and Moore’s characters try to navigate the insanity of their captors, including overgrown baby-like twins Bobo (Aykroyd) and Lil’ Debbull and more threats of masochistic torture and death.

The end of the movie doesn’t even provide a satisfying victory for the protagonists. Aykroyd leaves the audience with some loose threads that make one believe he thought he was going to get a sequel or even a franchise from this car crash of a film. Not even a late appearance by the great Brian Doyle-Murray helps course correct the ship. Which is not Doyle-Murray’s fault. He’s just another comedy pro that is given nothing funny to say here.

I love the original Ghostbusters. And Uncle Buck. And both of Chase’s Fletch movies.

These three actors were involved in so much comedy gold in their time, whether it be on the big screen or on SNL and SCTV. I so wanted to like this but that’s just an impossibility. In a 2010 interview with New Hampshire Magazine, Dan Aykroyd called this flick “a good serviceable comedy.”

I disagree. Peter Aykroyd came up with this story idea and gave it to his older brother to write the screenplay and breathe life into it. But it feels someone else was needed to step in and clean this thing up. The movie has gone down as a stain on the careers on the great actors who were involved and that’s the real shame of it.

I took my sweet time, approximately five different presidents worth of time, to finally see Nothing But Trouble. It would have been better to have not seen it at all. It hurts to see your heroes falter and they certain falter all the way into cinema infamy with this mess of a film.

 

 

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