Thursday, September 11, 2014

Movie #271: A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda is a crime comedy starring John Cleese, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline. You might notice that's the same cast as Fierce Creatures...wait, deja vu.

Anyway. Wanda (Curtis) is a jewel thief, partnered up with a London gangster named George (Tom Georgeson) and his flunky/materials procurer Ken (Palin). She brings in her "brother" (actually lover), Otto, an ex-CIA spook and complete numbskull (Kline, in an Oscar-winning performance) to handle the violent stuff.

But she has her own plans - she and Otto set George up after the robbery, whereupon she plans to grab the diamonds they stole and skip town...only George, not being a complete idiot, moved them and she doesn't know where. So she keeps Otto on, and moves to seduce George's lawyer, Archie, (Cleese), figuring if George cops a please he'll tell Archie where the jewels are first.

Archie is trapped in a marriage to a sarcastic, privileged wife (Maria Aitken), and stuck with his spoiled, shallow daughter (Cynthia Cleese, credited as Caylor), and is generally unhappy. Wanda's charms work on him, a few ethical niggles aside (interestingly, it's about the fact that she's a defense witness; he never so much as puts up a fight on the "I'm already married" front) and they fall in love. In the end, it all goes haywire, Archie, exposed, cuts his losses and helps Wanda steal the diamonds, and they flee to South American and start a leper colony.

I'm not saying much about Kline's character, but he really makes the movie. He's kind of Archer before Archer was a thing; he's highly skilled but a complete idiot, with a nasty sadistic streak to boot (he tortures Ken into telling him where the diamonds are by eating his entire tank of fish in front of him, including the titular Wanda). Palin, too, has a nicely understated performance, using a severe stutter (Palin himself has a stutter, and even has a fluency center named for him) and behaving mostly nicely - except when he kills an old lady by killing her dogs one by one (accidentally, though killing the old lady was always the plan). So nobody's really an upright moral human being here.

With that said, it's fun to watch Wanda's seduction of Archie evolve from purely self-serving to something she's enjoying to something she's conflicted about, to when she realizes she's really hot for him and if only he's rich! (But he's not.) Archie, similarly, gets a character arc, but it's less pronounced.

It's fun, but it's British, and you need to be prepared for some violence to people and animals. But given that, it's a classic comedy and worthy of the praise it gets.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: The Hunger Games