Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Hanky Panky (1982)

Ninety minutes of utterly impenetrable Hitchcock-lite screwball Parallax View shenanigans on a brave new quest for that Higgs Boson of the mismatched caper-com – side-splitting suspense...

Hanky Panky (1982, Sidney Poitier)

Starring: Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner, Richard Widmark, Frankie Faison, John Blood, Beau Starr, Libi Staiger, Bradford English.

Box Notables:

Tagline: ‘When you’re wanted for a murder you didn’t commit, chased for secrets you didn’t steal and running from people who want to kill you, then blah fucking blah fucking blah…’

The Ayatollah of Pensacola, Roof Party!, The Last Lafferty, Bubbling Under

Cherrypick: “I'm crashing an airplane!!!”

“That’s some catch, that catch-22…”
 “It’s the best there is.”

When producer Marty Ransohoff intrepidly frog-marched Joseph Heller’s nonsense novel ‘Catch 22’ to the silver screen in 1970, he effectively closed the tie-dyed screen doors of perception that had been rattling like a bronchial speed-freak for most of the previous decade. With the help of director Mike Nichols, he ardently plucked banana-skin bonging rich kids and Frisco-frisbeeing Maui Wowied yo-yos out of their flowery noontide college deferments and mellow yellow Hog Farms, and frugged their blissed-out chakras deep into the atom heart mother of all ‘Be-In’s – WAR. Specifically, the sun addled Mediterranean Theatre of WWII where your friend was your enemy, your enemy was your only hope, and where every notion of horse sense was melted down for glue and used to stick your mind to the nose cone of a Trans-Love Airways Electric Kool-Aid B-52 on a hot smoke and sassafras carpet-bombing mission over a burlesque of the human condition.

In terms of audience alienation and sheer bewilderfidity, however, even this intemperate hotchpotch of iconoclastic hubris was to prove a mere dime bag of oregano compared to the French Connection of confusion that would enshroud Ransohoff’s loose ‘82 follow-up – Hanky Panky
Just keep it away from you hair, man!
Zoinky-haired pipsqueak Gene Wilder spews forth an E-ed up toddler of a performance as watercooler polymath and yuppie foreshadow Michael Hanky in this unmoderated Milgram Test of a film which announced that, after a sublime seventies, Gene was beginning his descent into the carbon-copy, Richard Pryor co-starring, sensory deprivation flicks with which he was to see out a dismal screen decade. His wet Hanky is the dyspeptic Tourettic that overenthusiastically promises to guide us through ninety minutes of utterly impenetrable Hitchcock-lite screwball Parallax View shenanigans on a brave new quest for that Higgs Boson of the mismatched caper-com – side-splitting suspense. It is not long, though, before our pococurante Passepartout leaves us stranded in the caustic fogbanks of yet a-fucking-nother mordant potboiler with the comic potential of bowel surgery and all the page-turning dread fidgets of milky tea.

Stepping gingerly into a part originally conceived for Pryor (who was made unanticipatedly ‘unavailable’ for sixty to ninety days), ‘Saturday Night Live’ veteran Gilda Radner sketches brazen exposition vortex Kate ‘Panky’ Pankhurst. The lantern-jawed yin to Gene’s frizzy yang, Radner quite reasonably approaches her heedlessly rewritten role with all the relish of Irish Night at the deli. Sentenced to accompany Wilder across the country pursued by comedy great Richard Widmark’s testy spymaster, she is marched through the febrile blue blazes of a spatchcocked narrative concerning the loss and/or recovery of some missing computer tapes or top-secret document, or a castle in the air or High Brazil or Just. Any. Way. To. Make. It. All. Stop.
"And how much would it be for the full hour..?"
Double-crosses (wanton contrivances) pile up, disguises (bits of other films) are exploited and tables are turned (the negative flipped) in a palpably desperate attempt to somehow distinguish HP from Gene’s altogether smoother ride aboard 1976’s Silver Streak, but, like a tardy dwarf at lamplighter college, it’s just too little and it’s far too late. By the time Gene finds his techno-guffin and Widmark joins the big Agency in the sky you’ll be raining blows on your VCR and sobbing that there must surely be a better way than this…

“Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse…” concludes Heller’s anti-hero Yossarian in a credo of cosmic resignation that could be all too neatly applied to the ashy leavings of the ERH hogroast. Night after irretrievable night we rented films we didn’t want to see made by people who simply couldn’t have known what they were doing - but yet who amongst us can claim to have at any point questioned the usurping notion of the Emperor’s new duds. No, we willingly ponied up and and in doing so forfeited another pound from our waxen, waning souls. They didn’t even have to get their hands dirty - we dug it out ourselves. And that, surely indeed, is much, much worse.

Originally published in Little White Lies #20

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