A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Popeye

May 22, 2010

Popeye

What do you think of when you hear the name Robert Altman? M*A*S*H? The Player? Nashville?

How about Robin Williams? Probably Good Morning Vietnam or Aladdin or Dead Poet Society.

Now what do you think of when you hear the name Shelley Duval? That’s right! Popeye! This utterly bizarre mishmash of a musical comedy based on a comic strip. Starring Robin Williams and directed by Robert Altman. Because if ever there was anybody born to play the part of Popey’s wiry love interest Olive Oyle it was Shelley Duval. She will never be any other character in my mind.

What can a guy say about this movie? I mean, I do actually like it, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you why. The crazy overlapping dialog is definitely Altman’s style. Robin Williams seems to be doing a fair amount of his trademarked razor-witted ad-libbing, but it’s hard to tell. He does this crazy dialect and because of the pipe ever griped in his teeth a lot of his dialog is clearly ADR.

Part of what is so strange about this movie is that Altman tries to fill the movie with the same kind of slapstick humor as you’d see in the cartoons. But as can be seen in Home Alone cartoon violence when perpetrated on live action people is creepy and unnatural. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the extras that populate Sweethaven are professional clowns performing some of the slapstick bits they do in their circus routines. Clowns are also creepy and unnatural. All the characters in the movie have big cartoon clown shoes, and of course Popeye has the big bulky forearms that are his identifying feature in the comic and cartoons. Those arms are creepy and unnatural as well. Oh, and like MST3K favorite Angel’s Revenge this movie features Hanna Barbera inspired cartoon sound effects.

Furthermore the movie wanders in a sort of plot-less way. It takes the form of a series of small episodes that are bunched together to form a film. (Not unlike M*A*S*H come to think of it.) I keep looking up at the screen and seeing the capering going on there and thinking “What must have been going through these peoples’ heads as they were giving these bizarre performances?”

Although I am not extremely well versed in the world of Popeye I do suspect that there’s a fair amount of fan service in this movie. You get the impression that most of the townsfolk are indeed characters from the comic strip and you will of course recognize key catch phrases such as “I hate you to pieces!” and “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” There are a lot of little one-off ADR lines like “Remember my dear, today it’s my turn to be tall” which might just be really strange non-sequiturs used to fill any dead space in the film, which I also suspect are quotes or references. Certainly there is never a moment in the movie when there aren’t two or three different gags taking place all at once. It ends up with a frenetic feeling even during slow bits (like the lengthy boat chase – which is almost devoid of any real action, but which is packed with lines, a silly song that’s half stand-up routine, and a lot of jumping up and down and over-acting.)

You know what movie this mess reminds me of? Hook. That was another big ridiculous movie loosely based on a popular children’s property and starring Robin Williams. But whereas Hook just fell flat for me this movie is still fun in a strange way. Maybe it’s that this movie doesn’t at any time try to take itself seriously. It isn’t about growing up or rediscovering the wonder of childhood or anything. It’s just a weird little cartoon done in live action. I guess I respect it for the purity of its vision at the very least.

I certainly do NOT hate it to pieces.

May 22, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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