Damon Wayans attempts to acquire “Mo’ Money” with his first starring vehicle, and Teri Garr and Jeffrey Jones schlub up as “Mom and Dad Save the World.”
Nutshell: A small-time hustler, Johnny (Damon Wayans) looks to legitimate employment to escape jail time and pursue his high-class crush, Amber (Stacey Dash), obtaining a job with a credit card company under shady boss Keith (John Diehl). Once content prowling the streets for schemes with brother Seymour (Marlon Wayans), Johnny finds himself is a precarious position when Keith catches him stealing cards, blackmailing the new hire into larger scams, disrupting his burgeoning romantic routine with Amber. With the cops closing in, Johnny labors to keep himself and his brother alive as Keith looks to rid himself of criminal witnesses.
1992: Sometime during the general blur of 1999, I went to see Damon Wayans do a set at a local comedy club. Clocking in at just over an hour, the performance killed in a major way, touching on subjects ranging from sex to fatherhood, with impressions and grandiose physical comedy also competing for the attention of the audience. It was an amazing show, solidifying Damon Wayans as a particularly funny fellow after years of moderate fandom, easily the most appealing of the 1,000 members of the Wayans comedy dynasty, which is why I was abnormally open-minded about his great starring vehicle gold rush of the early 1990s.
Following the decent box office performance of the actioner “The Last Boy Scout” (a silly but wildly entertaining bruiser with Bruce Willis), Wayans was handed his own feature to manage, scripting the summer comedy “Mo’ Money,” which always felt like a studio play to push the performer to the big time, urging him into Eddie Murphy territory. Allowed plenty of room to riff, bring familiar characters from his stint on “In Living Color” to the screen, and get romantic (with the female Dorian Gray, Stacey Dash), Wayans accepted the challenge, cooking up a mild, formulaic action comedy that also introduced the world to little brother Marlon Wayans. All complaints should be directed toward Damon for that great offense to the funny bone.
Although the Brichives list tremendous concern with the opening and closing sequences of the film, I was an admirer of “Mo’ Money,” finding Damon Wayans agreeably silly, working around amusing situations of fraud that required the services of harmless hijinks to help facilitate an escape route. It wasn’t terribly taxing material, but undemanding summer shenanigans starring a pleasingly nutty performer looking to make himself a household name one comedy at a time. Of course, latter years brought on the likes of “Major Payne” and “Celtic Pride,” leaving Wayans’s quest unfulfilled. Nevertheless, the comic hit a high note with “Mo’ Money,” exiting the summer of 1992 with a profitable picture and studio interest in a second collaboration.
Two years later, there was “Blankman.” Jesus wept.
2012: Clearly, I was in a charitable mood back in 1992. I’m not sure if it was my fascination with the Wayans Family or the rare display of urban humor at my suburban theater, but it’s obvious that “Mo’ Money” is of little creative worth. Even as dumb fun, it really doesn’t provide the thrill ride atmosphere it’s oddly aiming for, bungling action and comedy as it speedwalks to a ridiculous conclusion.
It feels like major pieces of the script are missing, with director Peter MacDonald (a forgettable filmmaker with a resume that includes “Rambo III” and “The NeverEnding Story III”) burning through Johnny’s misadventures and love affair with Amber, with nothing in the effort sustaining any type of lasting power that would encourage characterizations or interest in the criminal aspects of the plot. “Mo’ Money” feels molested by studio hands, pared down to basic elements of threat and comedy, with little connective tissue between the gags and gunplay. Not that something titled “Mo’ Money” is promising a fulfilling meal of cinematic essentials, but even as inconsequential pap, it feels far too flimsy. There’s no menace to the antagonists (casting the flavorless John Diehl was a big mistake) and the comedy feels slapdash. Not entirely unfunny stuff, especially when Brother Wayans #1 locks into shtick mode, but I recalling laughing more at the movie when I was 16 years old. Today, I look at the feature with confusion and mild disdain.
The mix of laughs and action also feels pretty rough, leading to a shoot-em-up climax that would make Joel Silver proud. With a fight to the death staged inside of a salt factory(!), “Mo’ Money” ultimately takes itself too seriously, straining to make Damon Wayans a multifaceted man of the screen. As a jester, a lover, and a savior, “Mo’ Money” is truly a vanity project, shaping Johnny into a hero for the 1990s: quick to steal, but always honorable. Perhaps his original script contained more shades of introspection for the lead character as he’s urged into greater acts of fraud. The finished film doesn’t even allow Johnny to take a deep breath before he’s off on the next scheme. Wayans (not Marlon) is a funny guy, a fact this feature almost deliberately hides at times. It’s a shame. A low down dirty shame. Or maybe I’m thinking of another Wayans family member.
File this one under “I was young, gimme a break.”
Mom and Dad Save the World
Nutshell: Longtime married couple Dick (Jeffery Jones) and Marge Nelson (Teri Garr) are off on a weekend vacation, hoping to refresh their stale love for each other. Zapped into space during their drive to Northern California, the Nelsons are being pulled to the planet Spengo, where evil ruler Tod (Jon Lovitz) plans to have his way with Marge. Trapped in a world of idiots and bizarre creatures, Dick manages to break out of Tod’s prison, meeting up with a team of warriors (including Kathy Ireland) eager to restore peace to the planet, under the rule of fallen King Raff (Eric Idle). With Marge befriending the locals and fighting off Tod’s lecherous advances, Dick elects the hero routine, finding the juices flowing again as he fights to rescue his beloved wife.
1992: There’s really no scandalous story behind “Mom and Dad Save the World,” though it seems I’m part of a tiny club that actually caught the movie during its initial theatrical run. Although marketed in a Burtonesque manner that promised major blasts of zany and sci-fi/fantasy, the feature didn’t quite reach that lofty promise. Instead, the effort was decidedly earthbound, lacking an unhinged comic presence that could result in hearty laughs. It was wildly designed and peppered with oddity, obviously reaching for a manic spirit of escapism, only lacking a feisty cast and an imaginative director. I didn’t entirely take to the picture at the time, feeling underwhelmed by the whole experience, barely squeaking out a titter when it came to the misadventures of Marge and Dick Nelson.
Regardless of execution, the title “Mom and Dad Save the World” is a solid one, evoking a certain tone of irreverence mixed with askew heroism. I wish the people in charge could’ve done something with onscreen contents to match the label’s promise.
2012: It’s strange now to see how ridiculously fast paced “Mom and Dad Save the World” is. Running a stunningly short 78 minutes, the feature takes off like a shot once Marge and Dick find their way to Spengo, ordering up numerous chase sequences and slapstick shenanigans, rarely stopping to take a breath and enjoy the greater peculiarity that’s all around this harmless production -- think Terry Gilliam by way of Brian Levant.
The film’s brevity reveals numerous shortcuts throughout the story, suggesting “Bill & Ted” screenwriter Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson had something grander in mind when they initially cooked up a tale of two stubborn suburbanites flung into outer space, rediscovering their personal mojo and shared love along the way. Reduced to more of a mild cartwheel than a full-blown character arc is Dick, who burns through his purpose as the unhealthy-drip-turned-Fabio in a hurry, hinting at more interplay between Dad and the revolutionary kids on Spengo -- a subplot thinned to a so-so hand grenade joke and a few glory shots of Kathy Ireland in tiny warrior garb.
What, you think the producers hired the squeaky model for her acting ability?
“Mom and Dad” is frantic, but never truly funny. It expels all of its energy on visual achievements, forgetting to call up a few bellylaughs along the way. There’s way too much pressure on Lovitz to supply the comedy, and while he’s alert, he’s also rehashing old “SNL” mannerisms. Garr and Jones are on the drippy side too, leaving the picture without an actor who could provide a spark of jesting to the mix, to counterbalance the overwhelming special effects. Frankly, the movie is so concerned with zaniness, it could use a little loosening up, pushing the PG to a PG-13, unearthing a little spice to the wild world of Spengo and its half-naked idiots and population of dwarf-sized dogs and fish. Director Greg Beeman (“License to Drive”) fashions a toothless feature, though one with an undeniable pace and, well, Kathy Ireland in tiny outfits.
I’m actually surprised that my younger self didn’t take to this slingshot cartoon, as it seems perfectly suited to entertain a goof like me. The wackiness of “Mom and Dad Save the World” feels awfully dated today, especially with Jones in the lead role, and its edict to keep matters moving at all costs reveals troubling gaps underneath the velocity. I didn’t expect to love my second trip to Spengo, but I was hoping to have a more mature perspective on its theatrical assets. Unfortunately, I found myself hunting for laughs all over again. If anything, this is a movie begging to be remade with more twisted sense of humor, sharper talent, and tinier outfits.
Coming next week…
The pre-Buffy Buffy.
Robert Zemeckis takes Meryl Streep on a visual effects joy ride.
Robin Harris says goodbye with a cartoon.