A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

24 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“A Fish Called Wanda” is one of my favorite comedies—I think it’s one of the funniest, brash, offbeat movies I’ve ever seen, along with some of the Monty Python films. (Though, oddly enough, some of the Monty Python troupe takes part in this film, so there you go.) Every time I watch this movie, I laugh and laugh and laugh. But how often is it that among all the laughs and funny performances from the actors, there’s actually a highly imaginative story to go along with it? Then by definition, there’s a great movie here—good story, characters, actors, and of course, laughs.

It’s a caper story set in England and centered around a band of jewelry store robbers, consisting of the ringleader/mastermind George (Tom Georgeson), his stuttering, animal-loving friend Ken (Michael Palin), and two American recruits—Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her psychotic and quite idiotic lover Otto (Kevin Kline). They pull off the heist, but Wanda and Otto make an anonymous tip to the police. George is arrested, but not before hiding the loot. So to let himself off somewhat easily, he suggests giving away the location of the jewels to his barrister Archie Leach (John Cleese), resulting in Wanda planning to seduce Archie.

Archie Leach is a mild-mannered lawyer living an unpleasant home life with his materialistic wife (Maria Aitken) and spoiled daughter. When Wanda comes into his life, it’s a more interesting case of romance and excitement, making things more complicated since Wanda was his client’s aide, and especially because Otto is a jealous man (whom Wanda tells Archie is his brother) who constantly spies on the two of them and also takes some extreme action.

These are wonderfully nutty characters in “A Fish Called Wanda” and the actors are more than game. Everyone in the cast has his/her moment to shine while the audience is laughing out loud. Comedian John Cleese, who also wrote the screenplay and is also a “Monty Python” alum, is at his best as Archie Leach, making an appealing, unlikely hero and giving some big laughs along the way. His reactions to many of the zany, bizarre situations are hilarious. Kevin Kline is excellent as Otto, a man so deranged that he doesn’t believe himself to be deranged. This is a guy who reads Nietzsche and thus thinks he’s so intelligent, even though he misreads his style. He’s so stupid that he thinks the London Underground is a political movement. There’s also a running joke in which he’ll repeat the memorable line “Don’t call me stupid” and then go to unforgettable conditions to those who do call him “stupid” (like swing somebody from a window!).

Jamie Lee Curtis is sexy and playful as Wanda. And then there’s Michael Palin, also from “Monty Python,” having a lot of fun as Ken, a stutterer with a love for animals, particularly his pet fish (one of which is named Wanda). He’s the one who has to do away with the old lady who was a witness to the heist getaway, but constantly (and accidentally) winds up killing off her little pet dogs instead.

If you had told me that I would love a movie in which three dogs are knocked off (one of which is pounded into the cement of the street), I wouldn’t have believed you. I guess anything can be funny or maybe I’m just sick. Or hopefully, I’m not sick, because I’m sure that you would laugh at that too. Bottom line: I laughed out loud.

Most of the humor in “A Fish Called Wanda” is the nuttiness involving these zany characters and the physical comedy that occurs during most of their circumstances. I can’t give a lot of the best gags away, because that would defeat the purpose of surprise. I won’t even describe them just to make the review funny. I think I’ve explained just about enough.

“A Fish Called Wanda” is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen—It’s original, inspired, gamely-acted, and…it’s just funny from beginning to end.

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