Everybody has their own group of favorite comics. I got plenty of classics that I always love to watch like Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and so forth. But we all have that one comic that we do not readily talk about in open groups or even with family. However late at night, maybe a drink in, and when nobody is looking (at least your wife anyway) we turn on and laugh our posterior off with. For me, that’s Bobcat Goldthwait. The movie is of course, Shakes the Clown.
We open to a dog enjoying some leftover pizza from the night before. A record is skipping and a young child walks over to it and removes the needle. His next stop is the bathroom as anybody in the male gender will tell you. Unfortunately, he stumbles over our hero, Shakes the Clown (played by Bobcat Goldthwait) who is apparently hanged over from the night before. Shakes soon wakes by the gentle flow of urine on his reeking head.
The kid finishes and goes back outside to yell at his mother (played by Florence Henderson in an outstanding cameo) who tells the boy that might be her new boyfriend. Meanwhile, Shakes retches and does his best to wake up. He walks out, asks the mother what time it is and realizes he is going to be late for a children’s birthday party. He says goodbye with an exploding cigar in his mouth and leaves the mother wondering if she will ever see that handsome clown again. It is time for a drive to Palookaville, cue the morning zoo.
However, before Shakes shows up at the birthday party he has to make a quick stop at the ole gas station to get cleaned up and ready for a day at work. Soon Shakes is not a mild mannered drunk clown, he is actually a mild mannered drunk clown with really well done makeup. We cut away for a moment to introduce the Twisted Balloon, a clown dive bar that Shakes and his friends frequent.
Now, back at the birthday party, Shakes the Clown performs just as well as any clown can (actually better since I don’t think Bozo the Clown jumped twenty feet in the air). Magic tricks galore, Shakes and the kids are having a grand ole time. But wait, we need to have a co-star, so scene change to introduce Shake’s girlfriend, Judy (played by the gorgeous Julie Brown). As it turns out, she is quite the bowler as she talks with her best friend, Lucy (played by Kathy Griffin) about all things bowling and Shakes.
After a successful birthday party, Shakes is found at the Twisted Balloon drinking it up with his friends, Dink (played by Adam Sandler) and Stenchy (played by Blake Clark). We also learn that the TV clown, Peppy (played by Sydney Lassick) is to be replaced by Binky (played by Tom Kenny). Hrmm, I wonder if Binky is going to be the villain of this flic. However, the night for Shakes is just beginning. Alcohol, fighting with his girlfriend, and yet another hangover makes him soon realize that Shakes has to break the cycle and change his life.
We soon find out that it is a long road to redemption for Shakes the Clown. But that’s what makes this movie so great. This was the first directorial vehicle for Bobcat and despite this sucker being a failure at the box office, it has developed into dare I say a cult favorite among many. (Dare, Dare) The odd thing about it is how well everybody succeeds at playing the film straight and not giving in to the fact that almost everybody is in clown makeup for the majority of the movie.
There are plenty of great jokes including many sight gags that require you to watch the film at least a couple of times to get. (Check out the police station background where a police officer is pointing a gun directly into a criminal’s face for a hilarious moment). This film is also a fantastic representation of actual Dark Humor and not what is usually associated with Dark Humor today, some artsy film about death and dying where you wonder if you are supposed to be laughing or not because some critic tells you to.
I would be seriously amiss if I did not mention some of the fantastic co-starring and cameos sprinkled throughout this film as well. Adam Sandler, Florence Henderson, LaWanda Page, Bruce Baum and yes, the great Robin Williams among others. Seriously, if you watch nothing else in this movie…watch Robin Williams as a mime. I’m still hysterically laughing and crying thinking about it. Give me a few seconds. Still need a few more, maybe if I start talking about the Video and Sound, I’ll get better.
Screen size for the film is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. I had probably not seen this film since some mangled copy on VHS or DVD and often in parts, it still looks like it is coming off a non-high-definition format. Okay, I jest. But there is a sizeable amount of grain and the image is not exactly what I call clean.
But the flesh tones are accurate and the colors are extremely vibrant. So, in many respects this is very much improved from what I’m trying to remember. Of course, this movie was probably playing on USA’s Up-All-Night when I was in college. Hence, my head was probably in a dull haze and not so much this film. Suitable improvement overall. (My head and the film.)
Sounds for this movie are presented in PCM 2.0 English. As one could expect, this film is very heavily dialogue driven with an occasional sprinkle of music when absolutely necessary. You are not going to get any real surrounds (though during the commentary you could tell who was sitting on the right and the left of the presentation) but it is thankfully clear for what it is. However, if you would like to make sure you get all of the words during an alcoholic clown rage, English subtitles are provided. Very much appreciated since I was wondering.
Commentary by Bobcat Goldthwait, Julie Brown, and Tom Kenny : The single best thing about this 25th anniversary edition release is the brand new commentary by the three principle stars of the show. They share stories (Florence Henderson boob hickey), provide informative anecdotes about the movie (Bobcat likes directing a whole lot more than acting), and laugh uncontrollably about the various participants of the film (LaWanda Page’s ad-libbing). It’s a 90-minute whirlwind and one of my favorite commentaries of all time. I could listen to these three for days on end (Seriously, if they ever have time, I’d probably buy a plane ticket for such an event).
Disclaimer, but I had the biggest crush on Julie Brown especially during her MTV Show. She actually started my whole red-head craze that lasted into my mid 30’s. (Really, I’m not making this up, I actually bought the re-release of her music cd, Trapped in the Body of a White Girl several years ago.) Anyway, put her together with Bobcat and you have a film that I have greatly adored for twenty years. I will admit the movie is not for everyone but for anybody who wants to laugh at the follies and misadventures of a bunch of clowns, this movie is indeed for you.
The audio and video of this flic are no great shakes (Pun intended) but the commentary is hands down one of the best and funniest I have ever heard. It is what makes this disc from Mill Creek Entertainment a must buy, especially at a bargain price. So I must raise a glass (for the times when I did drink) and heartily recommend this film and disc. Besides, where else are you going to find a movie with Florence Henderson lusting after a clown, Robin Williams and Adam Sandler in full clown makeup and a murder mystery at the same time? Well the answer sir is nowhere, enjoy.