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Dream Team, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"Hit-and-Miss With Some Terrific Bits"
3 stars

Michael Keaton again proves himself a sensational leading man who can do a whole lot for some flawed material.

The amiable comedy The Dream Team manages to succeed despite a woeful violent-crime subplot that occasionally clashes in tone with the rest of the piece, and its desire to be a light-hearted One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest isn't exactly the most original idea on earth, but thanks to some fantastic bits, superb dialogue, and a couple of humorous characters it gets by. The story centers on four psychiatric patients in an upstate New York facility who embark with their doctor on a field trip into the big city to see a Yankees game. They consist of Billy Caufield (Michael Keaton), a charming but short-tempered guy with a low-frustration tolerance who, with very little in the way of provocation, majors in smashing up furniture -- he was committed for bolting out of the stands during a sporting event and socking a referee who made a bad call; Henry Sikorsky (Christopher Lloyd), an ex-postal employee with a obsessive-compulsive disorder who's the very martinet of neatness and anal-retentiveness -- he all has to be physically restrained from picking even a small wad of paper off the floor; Jack McDermott (Peter Boyle), a former business executive with the ultimate God complex -- he lays around in the nude and sips wine while endlessly quoting Scripture; and Albert Ianuzzi (Stephen Furst), an overweight basket case who barely speaks and when he does it's only in baseball terminology -- "triple play" is a much stronger response from him than "bunt." They're not maximum-wing patients so the trip is approved by the facility's director, though with some reservation after Billy, after getting peeved at Henry's fussiness during a group session, throws a chair into a window (in a neat touch, when their doctor hears the commotion and comes running into the room, the chair is still lodged in it). When they're in the city, though, they have to make an unexpected pit stop. Albert has a bursting need to urinate, and the doctor takes him into an alley, and they inadvertently witness two men viciously assault someone; the doctor is knocked unconscious by them but a policeman runs toward the scene, scaring the men who run away and making Albert flee back to the group. The doctor is taken to the hospital, the two men are revealed to be corrupt cops, Albert still can't lucidly relay what happened, and the doctor's life is in danger by these cops who see him as a dangerous witness. The group gets separated and go their own ways, which of course results in more than a fair share of misadventures when unleashed upon the unsuspecting Big Apple; the joke is that even hardened New Yorkers don't know what to make of these nutty guys, and in the movie's favor this isn't made a big deal of -- it's the pretext for the comedy but isn't pounded into our heads in a pandering-down-to manner.

The director, Howard Zieff, whose previous forays into comedy were the successful Private Benjamin with Goldie Hawn and the Unfaithfully Yours remake with Dudley Moore, has a clean, uncluttered style that perfectly suits the material. He's efficient and knows how to set up a gag; he takes his time but not too much time, and allows the actors a fair amount of room to try out some things -- nothing feels constricted or too thought out. And considering the numerous pitfalls inherent in the story premise, Zieff keeps a decent deal of the jokes well-aligned. Not all the members of the group, however, are worth their weight in platinum. The character of Henry starts off well enough but the screenwriters haven't given him enough in the way of variety -- bitching about the ultra-orderliness of things on a constant basis can grow tiresome rather easily, and even a madcap comic actor like Lloyd can't really salvage the limitations of the concept. But at least Henry's easier to take than Albert, who, like Henry, is too one-note in his general demeanor; and Furst, who was charming and funny as Chuck Norris's clumsy cop sidekick in Silent Rage, is pretty much one-note himself in a fairly unimaginative performance. Luckily, Jack is a fine creation, and the never-better Boyle takes this juicy role and scores like a pro; he gives himself over to it completely and unleashes a delightful zeal that's the very definition of "the joy of acting." (It also helps that he's been given some awfully good lines: "This is the body and blood of our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And a damned fine Beaujolais!") But the real kicker is Keaton's Billy, a rip-roaring shot of electricity that dazzles and keeps us on his irresistible side from the word go. One would think this is the character who would've been the most obnoxious of the lot, but Billy is an ingratiating devil who can be very charming when the need arises; and his sense of righteousness that develops has some levels that Keaton masterfully blends in. (His standout scene is when he sticks up for a harassed waitress and pushes an obnoxious yuppie's face into a plate of pasta, and then offers up a humorous quip in the softest voice laced with a side of malice.) Keaton's charismatic and commanding to a tee, and he provides the movie with its driving life force -- without him, this'd be a two-star movie at best. Unfortunately, the corrupt cops stop things cold whenever they appear, and it doesn't help that Zieff employs some dreadful suspense music marking each of their arrivals. It's just too unpleasant an aspect to the story that's been lamely built in to provide the proceedings with an unnecessary central conflict; and it's even more noticeable being that two first-rate actors, James Remar and Phillip Bosco, are wasted playing them.

The Dream Team is more about scenes, really, than an organic, fully realized overall whole. The connective tissue reaches quite a lot, and you're never really sure that the screenwriters, Jon Connelly and David Loucka, believed they had all the makings of a complete motion picture. They had a catchy story idea, sure, and it was probably fairly persuasive when they pitched it, and considering that the laugh quotient is very respectable as far as these things go, they're certainly not without some talent. A scene where Jack wanders into an African American church, is positively ecstatic at the energetic and soulful gospel singing going on, and proceeds to leap onto the stage and cut loose with some high-pollutin' Fire and Brimstone is about all you could ask for; but when it climaxes with him stripping off his clothes to the aghast reactions of the churchgoers and the police are called, a good deal of air goes out of it. And when Henry poses as a psychiatrist to get his comrades out of jail and is locked up himself, you know Connelly and Loucka threw it in just so this "dream team" could be back together again. Taking these into account with the crime aspect, it's abundantly clear that this is not a seamless cinematic venture where all its pistons are shooting in all the successful directions; it's got a patched-up feel to it, like a run-down Victorian house that's attractive mostly from the outside that's being held together by termites holding hands. (Maybe a seasoned script doctor like Robert Towne could have done something with the story transitions and segues.) But while the movie has its share of shortcomings, it's refreshingly absent of bathroom humor and tastelessness and crassness -- it's proud just to be disarmingly light on its feet and bouncy when it's really working; it embraces good-naturedness like it's an honorable thing but not in a pushy manner like it's totally going out of style and needs to remind you of this at each and every turn. (It's the ultimate not-getting-into-your face picture.) Zieff doesn't go in for any distracting camerawork and is confident enough in his ability to present a gag with tact, like in an unbroken take as the camera follows Jack walking down a hospital corridor, touching an elderly man on a bed and saying "Arise and walk, my son," and while there's some dialogue going on we see the man in the background get out of the bed and fall down. It simply wouldn't have been as funny if Zieff had shifted the angle with another camera; and when Billy talks a befuddled store owner into stetching his twelve dollars to buy Jack some clothes, it's another one-take shot that gives us the perfect appreciation of the verbal flow of the scene. The Dream Team is far from perfect, but when it works, it does so with its share of class.

You could do better but a lot worse, believe me.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5821&reviewer=327
originally posted: 01/04/11 16:38:10
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
12/29/16 Paula H Funny... really good movie 5 stars
5/16/05 Jeff Anderson A very funny film & enjoyable. Keaton, Lloyd, Boyle, Furst & Boutsikaris are terrific. 5 stars
9/02/04 Fred Baron Funny!!! 5 stars
4/12/03 Jack Sommersby The bad-cop subplot is banal, but the rest is fresh and funny. Keaton is outstanding. 4 stars
12/22/02 3man I almost fell asleep. 1 stars
10/14/02 Charles Tatum In Hollywood, nothing's funnier than mental illness, except the retarded 2 stars
4/17/02 Priscilla Postlethwaite Fun flew over the cuckoo's nest! 5 stars
3/16/02 Zargo Some nice parts, but generally uninteresting 3 stars
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  07-Apr-1989 (PG-13)



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