The story of the underrated comedy gem "Brain Donors" is quite a fascinating tale indeed. Conceived as a throwback tribute to old- school comedy acts such as the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, the film was an early effort for writer Pat Proft and director Dennis Dugan, whom worked under the supervision of the wildly famous Zucker Brothers. A cast of talented comedic actors was assembled and the filming commenced under the original working title "Lame Ducks", with the bulk of the plot being very loosely inspired by the classic Marx Brothers comedy "A Night at the Opera."
Then a series of troubling developments ensued, casting the fate of the film into uncertainty. The Zucker Brothers had a falling out with studio Paramount and walked from the project during production, and Paramount responded by purposely changing the film's title at the last moment and tanking the marketing in a ploy for retribution. "Lame Ducks"- now known as "Brain Donors"- bombed at the box office as a result, and was quickly forgotten by film-goers... until its later home-video release eventually found an audience thanks to positive word-of-mouth.
And it's a very good thing that it eventually found an audience. While not a particularly great film by any stretch, the fact remains that "Brain Donors" is a thoroughly endearing, charming and indeed laugh- out-loud hilarious tale that hearkens back to the glory-days of cinema, and the creativity that went into its production deserves all the recognition it could possibly get.
After the death of famed philanthropist Oscar Winterhaven Oglethorpe, a ballet company is set to be founded in the name of his widow Lillian, played by Nancy Marchand. And Lillian's (literal) ambulance-chasing attorney Roland T. Flakfizer (John Turturro), along with his knucklehead associates Jacques (Bob Nelson) and Rocco (Mel Smith), want in on a slice of the action, putting them at odds with the company's slimy, power- hungry director Edmund Lazlo. (John Savident) All the while, the three are also drawn into other assorted shenanigans and comedic mishaps, including attempting to secure a spot for their friends Lisa (Juliana Donald) and Alan (Spike Alexander) in the act.
At a lean 79 minutes, the film is an incredibly efficient comedic powerhouse, packing in the jokes fast and loose at a constant pace. Turturro, Nelson and late and great Smith make for a tremendous trio of likable doofuses, and all get key defining features and moments to shine. Turturro being the fast-talking and neurotic schmoozer, Nelson being a hapless and well-meaning oaf with an obsession towards gadgets, and Smith being a brash and volatile dope who sometimes can't keep his mouth shut. They compliment each other very well and have a great sense of chemistry. It honestly is a genuine shame we never got to see the three together again as these characters... I'd have loved to have seen them thrown into more stories.
Visually, the film is very interesting, with director Dugan giving it all a certain sense of hyper-reality, which I think was an attempt to emulate the glitz and glamour of classic Hollywood comedies. It doesn't quite work in that sense, but it does help to usher the audience into the cartoonish madness that ensues, and it does the job well. I also really got a kick out of the use of stop-motion claymation for the credits, which was a really nice touch. The script by Proft is also really well structured, with the plot being used wisely to set up skits and scenarios to see our three leads make the worst out of. Dialog is played quick and loaded with subtle jokes, gags and double- entendres... you could watch the film a dozen times and still find new laughs that you never noticed before.
It really is a tragedy to watch the film and know the backstory and what could have been had it been given a fair change. It's brutally funny and extremely cleverly assembled. I actually had to pause it several times just so I could catch my breath between cackles. Sure, the run-time is a bit too short, some of the jokes are a bit disturbing and it's not gonna change your life... but it's darned entertaining and well-worth checking out. And I can't help but give it my highest of recommendations to fans of all things funny. I give "Brain Donors" a very good 8 out of 10.
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