April 9th, 2011

HALF SHOT AT SUNRISE (1930) ** ½

Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey star as two American GI’s who are AWOL in Paris during WWI.  Together they impersonate officers in order to pick up chicks in cafes.  Bert predictably falls in love with their colonel’s daughter (the team’s usual co-star Dorothy Lee), which naturally complicates matters.  She then sets out to make Bert a war hero so her father will accept him as her husband by forcing him to deliver a top secret letter to the front lines.

 

Wheeler and Woolsey are a comedy team that’s pretty much forgotten nowadays but most of the movies I’ve seen of theirs are pretty funny.  While Half Shot at Sunrise isn’t a sterling example of their work, it’s a solid flick that features its fair share of laughs.  I only wish they had chucked the annoying songs because they have a tendency to stop the flick’s momentum on a dime.

 

Luckily we have some fairly funny comedic set pieces here that make up for the lame musical numbers.  The scenes where Wheeler and Woolsey try to pick up girls are pretty good and there’s a funny scene where they pose as waiters too.  But it’s one of the MP’s who’s on the lookout for Wheeler and Woolsey that gets the best line of the movie when he says, “When I find those two I’ll knock ‘em so cold they’ll keep for years!”

CRACKED NUTS (1931) **

The team of Wheeler and Woolsey head into Duck Soup-ish territory with this comedy about a king (Robert Woolsey) in a fictional country.  A revolutionary (Boris Karloff, the same year as Frankenstein) wants to dethrone the king and coerces Bert Wheeler to assassinate him.  Little does Boris know, the two are old friends, so he has to devise another way to get rid of the pesky Woolsey.

 

I mentioned that this flick sorta has a Duck Soup vibe about it in the early going.  However, this flick is no Duck Soup.  The gags just aren’t there and a lot of the film just plain drags.  And the ending is particularly stupid. 

 

The big problem is that Wheeler and Woolsey spend too much time apart for the film to really work.  (Woolsey just isn’t as funny while bouncing insults off of other people.)  In fact, the movie is almost halfway over before they share their first scene together.  But even though the first half is flat and unfunny, the team doesn’t exactly set the world on fire once they finally appear alongside one another.  Part of that is because the script just isn’t up to snuff, but Wheeler and Woolsey’s performances even seem to be lacking inspiration in this one.

 

Heck, not even the presence of Boris Karloff can save Cracked Nuts.  All things considered, this is probably the worst Wheeler and Woolsey comedy I’ve seen.  It’s not terrible mind you, but the laughs are just too sporadic for you to waste your time on it.

ZERO EFFECT (1998) * ½

Bill Pullman stars as a reclusive detective named Daryl Zero who has bizarre methods of getting a job done.  Because he’s crazy as a loon, he gets his associate (Ben Stiller) to meet all of his clients.  His latest client (Ryan O’Neal) is being blackmailed by a paramedic (Kim Dickens) and Zero goes undercover to investigate.  Predictably, he falls in love with the blackmailer and has to force himself to act like a “regular” guy in order to talk to her.

 

I like Bill Pullman as much as the next moviegoer (he was Da Bomb in Spaceballs, yo) but his antics in Zero Effect are really quite off-putting.  Watching him twitch and cavort around is a chore and he gets on your nerves like a sumbitch.  I’m sure there are die hard Pullman-iacs out there who will eat this up, but for me, his entire performance took me out of the movie.

 

Stiller fares much better.  He gets some good lines and is pretty funny but his efforts alone can’t save the film.  It also doesn’t help that he and Pullman have zero (GET IT?  ZERO!?!) chemistry together.

 

The flick was written and directed by Jake Kasdan.  His father Lawrence also wrote The Empire Strikes Back.  Too bad some of his old man’s writing chops didn’t rub off on him.  On top of that, the ending is pretty fucking weak too and definitely pales next to the “I am your father!” ending of ESB.