October 14, 2013

The Man with Two Brains (1983)
Grade: 73/100

Director: Carl Reiner
Stars: Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, David Warner

What it's about. Celebrity brain surgeon Steve Martin marries the beautiful but decidedly evil Kathleen Turner, who gets her kicks driving her husbands insane with rage at her. Martin decides to leave her for the brain of a nice girl (voiced by Sissy Spacek), kept alive in a jar in the German laboratory of mad scientist David Warner. Paul Benedict has a minor memorable role as Warner's nonplussed butler.

Alas, Spacek's brain will die unless it is transplanted soon. Warner proposes a gorilla, but Martin replies, "I can't [censored] a gorilla!" Martin checks out the goods of every prostitute in town, settling on simpleton Randi Brooks, even though her voice is even worse than Fran Drescher's. Martin is not up to his moment of truth, but luckily for him, the Elevator Killer strikes again, allowing him to have the best of both worlds: his wife's body and his girlfriend's brain.

How others will see it. This slapstick comedy drew mixed reviews, was ignored by the awards circuit, and was not a box office smash, unlike The Jerk, a previous Reiner-Martin collaboration.

Today at imdb.com, the user vote total is a middling 15K and the user rating of 6.2 suggests most don't think that much of it. Women over 45 give it just 5.7, perhaps because they disapprove of the male lead spending the final reel searching for a beautiful woman to murder.

It is definitely an 'R' rated comedy, and will offend the humorless. However, the film does have a healthy cult following, as can be seen on the imdb message board, user comments, and quotes, where favorite scenes and lines are exchanged.

How I felt about it. It's surprisingly good. I admit that I haven't seen The Jerk since it first came out, and I didn't like it then, even though I thought Martin was funny in his various "Saturday Night Live" guest host appearances, especially his King Tut schtick: "Don't want no fancy funeral, just one like old King Tut!"

Why The Man with Two Brains works, while The Jerk doesn't, is hard to determine. Martin is frantic in both, but he has better material here, perhaps because the mad scientist, brain swapping plot (as Mel Brooks found out in Young Frankenstein) is ripe for comedy. It also helps that Kathleen Turner seems to enjoy her ridiculous evil sexpot role.

But the bottom line is, the movie is more funny than it should be, even after taking into account the talent that went into it. It seems that the imaginations of Reiner and Martin ran wild, and most of the gags worked, when in other films (e.g. The Jerk and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid) similar gags fell flat. Inspiration can be capricious and fleeting.

It has been pointed out to me that the ending doesn't make sense. If injecting someone with window cleaner kills the body first, then it would not be possible to resurrect Kathleen Turner with Sissy Spacek's brain. But then again, brain transplants aren't possible either, and neither can one keep a brain alive in a jar. It's best not to care about such things. It is a satire.

Merv Griffin was a daytime talk show host, as famous (though perhaps not as wealthy) in his day as Oprah Winfrey is today. Now that his show has faded from present public memory, it is ironic that he will be remembered mostly as the Elevator Killer in the present comedy.