Brewsters Millions
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Brewster's Millions

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One of the great things about movies is the capture a moment in time forever. They reflect the times and provide a snapshot of history. In a strange way the series of films called ‘Brewster’s Millions’, help to document the procession of inflation in this country. Since 1914 there has been a half a dozen films by this name. Each had the same plot, waste a certain amount of money in order to inherit a vastly larger sum. At first it was $100,000 to get a million, by 1985 it was spend $30 million to get $300 million. Unlike most remakes, in this case the last is by far the best of the lot. Monty Brewster (Richard Pryor) is a broken down minor league baseball pitcher. He can barely pay for the necessities of life. One day out of the blue something happens to change his life. It turns out that Monty is the sole heir to a large fortune left him by his great grand uncle (Hume Crone). Monty is the (literally) back sheep of the family in accordance with grand uncle’s bizarre sense of humor; Monty will inherit $300 million if he can waste $30 million in 30 days. There are a few catches. He cannot tell anyone about the terms, he cannot have anything left of value at the end of the 30 days and he can’t just give it away. Monty enlists the aide of an unwitting and dimwitted friend to help him spend his money. Spike Nolan (John Candy) the catcher in the broken down team, joins Monty in a wild spending spree. Of course, if all could possibly go smoothly there would be no movie. Overseeing the spending of the money is the bad guy, Warren Cox (Stephen Collins). If Monty fails his firm will gain control of the money. He is bent on making sure Monty fails. There is also a pretty young woman, Angela Drake (Lonette McKee). She has to document the spending. Since she doesn’t know the details she is shocked at the apparent wasteful way Monty is spending. Being a beautiful young woman she of course becomes the object of Monty’s affections. The ways that Monty devises to spend his money are funny and in at least one case a biting indictment of this country, he decides the best way to throw money away is to enter the race for the mayor of NYC. His campaign slogan is the pointed "I’ll only make things worse, and that’s a promise!"

This film is the collaboration of two comic geniuses, Richard Pryor and John Candy. Watching this film you get to see these two men at the top of their game. It is a shame that drug abuse so tragically affect the careers of these men. This type of film could easily have become a farce of itself; instead it delivers a real experience in comedy. To keep a comedy from becoming nothing more than a series of jokes there has to be an emotional commitment to the audience. Pryor and Candy go beyond being joke tellers. Their performances balance the comedy with a little pathos. Pryor is the every-man. Monty is the poor slob that is trying to live his dream of playing baseball. He has some talent but he knows that he doesn’t have what it takes to really make it in pro ball. When he receives his windfall Pryor displays an initial excitement but soon permits self-doubt to creep in. His performance shows the burden of not only having such wealth but also that he is uncomfortable with having to keep a secret from those closest to him. This added dimension to the film turns a hack comedy to a real little gem. Candy displays the same supporting actor talent that he did in ‘Splash’ in this film. He was able to maintain the pace of the film through the interjection of his unique brand of comedy. Candy could have descended into a pity role of the overweight friend of the main character but here elevated the role to a presentation of a true friend. Spike is glad to be on the ride of spending money but behind it all Candy injected into the role a depth, showing a man willing to protect his friend without question. The two men made a great comedy team.

There is one thing about director’s like Walter Hill, he is not afraid to take a change with a new genre. He has done flicks like 48 Hrs to writing credits to a couple of the Alien films. Of course with such experimentation there are bound to be a few misses. He did direct the lamentable Supernova, although much to his credit he had his name replaced with Thomas Lee, the replacement for Alan Smithee (the pseudonym used for directors that want to be disassociated from a film). With Brewster Hill was in top form. Timing is especially important for a comedy and Hill has it down to an art form. The film does not drag or have any sections that will cause the audience’s attention to wane. His direction of Pryor and Candy keeps them focused but permits their natural sense of comedy to come through. With this wide screen presentation you can see just how much effort went into Hill’s framing and attention to detail.

This disc is extremely well made. The audio is a nicely remixed Dolby two-channel mono. The sound is full and it’s hard to fault. The video is an anamorphic 1.85:1. While there are a few marks and defects it is nothing so bad as to distract form your enjoyment. There is little in the way of extras, just some production notes and trailer, but the film is worth the buy on its own. Universal is doing a great job of bringing these great little finds to DVD. They are committed to a high standard of quality and releasing films that while they may not be great cinema are films that people enjoy. I personally look forward to them continuing this trend and hope other studios take notice. Get this one for a fun afternoon that the whole family can enjoy together.

Posted 5/3/02

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