31 July 2011

The Films of Jonathan Lynn: The Distinguished Gentleman

So, a little later than I'd like, here's another review of the Films of Jonathan Lynn, The Distinguished Gentlemen, released in 1992 by Hollywood Pictures. Written by Marty Kaplan and Jonathan Reynolds.

The scenario follows con man Thomas Jefferson Johnson (Eddie Murphy), as he gets himself elected into congress to take advantage of lobbyist donations. He crosses paths with corrupt congressman Dick Dodge (Lane Smith) who displays the dark side of covering one's interests, and, at least as far as the VHS box promises, "hilarity ensues".

I can't admit to being an Eddie Murphy fan or expert, but "Distinguished Gentleman" does give Murphy a great to showcase his range of characters from the peak of his career. As Thomas Johnson the con man, Murphy poses as everything from cranky old Jews to a hyper-competent policeman to a pitch perfect "white announcer voice". Though many of these characters and types have been showcased in other movies (and most likely, the "cop" scene was written in to try to borrow some of Beverly Hills Cop's success), it's nice to see a professional doing what he does best.

I don't particularly like "Distinguished Gentleman" too much, mainly due to the script. After about an hour of watching Thomas romp through Congress, the littlest cancer patient wanders into his office, giving him noble motivation for defeating corrupt Congressman Dodge. What the hell? I know the movie was basically made by Disney, but even this stunt is stupid, saccarine and nonsensical. If Thomas is supposed to have a change of heart, shouldn't it be due to a character or element already well -established and organic to the scenario? Why does this darn bald kid and her magic cancer-causing lines come out of nowhere? It's shoddy writing pandering more to lifetime movie-of-the-week sensibilities than to principles of either drama or narrative logic.

My favorite thing about this movie is Lane Smith

Yeah, he looks older in this movie, but this is too creepy to pass up

He's just so damn intimidating. Unlike the well-meaning DA from "Vinny" Smith's character in "Gentlemen" is a mean-hearted Hollywood bad guy through and through. Though thinly drawn, Congressman Dodge is effective as he's written as basically being a better con man than Thomas (kind of like in Pirates of the Caribbean, Barbossa is a better at pirating ship than Captain Sparrow) .

All in all, I'd say this is one of Jonathan Lynn's weaker movies so far. For a guy who built his career on political satire, American Government seems like a logical subject matter. And like "Nuns on the Run" and "My Cousin Vinny" the film's not afraid to show it's research. But the thing's too damn sugary to really be an effective satire, and too damn thin on characterization to draw merit on other fronts. I might watch it again if I didn't have to pay money to do it.

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