Sunday, November 8, 2009

Welcome To Valkenvania


This is the way movies (and books and TV shows and comics and any other form of entertainment) work: either they do or they do not. They don't have to be great art to work for you, they just have to hit you are the right (or wrong) time in your life, and whether they work for you or not is wholly dependent upon how willing and open you are to accept what the maker of that movie has to say and how he has to say.

Which brings us, in a completely roundabout way, to Nothing But Trouble. This is a movie that, for reasons I, personally cannot begin to fathom, worked not at all for lots and lots of people. And why not? It had a smashing cast—Chevy Chase (just beyond the top of his career slope, but still damn near the top), Demi Moore, Taylor Negron, John Candy (also, and Dan Ackroyd himself in two utterly unrecognizable roles. Ackroyd also co-wrote and directed. If the gods of cinema had been looking down from on high, they too would have nodded in agreement.

Chevy Chase volunteers to drive Demi Moore, Taylor Negron and Bertila Damas somewhere; a short cut takes them through an isolated part of Pennsylvania (which is not near as difficult as is sounds, as all of Pennsylvania is isolated). They quickly run afoul of local traffic ordinances and are brought before a judge who throws at them all manner of law books hundreds of years out of date. And here the adventure begins.

The isolated Pennsylvanian town in which our heroes find themselves, Valkenvania, is a surreal landscape of decay and rot, the land of Oz gone horribly to seed. The "villains," the right good Shire Reeve (Dan Ackroyd with the head of a penis so subtly replacing the tip of his nose that it somehow looks natural) and his brood want nothing more than to add Chase and his group—the "good" guys—to their collection, either as in-laws or as a set of discarded driver's licenses nailed to a memorial wall in an attic. It is largely unimportant which fate Chase and Co. chooses.

Ackroyd the writer and director falls squarely on the side of the Valkenvanians, and there is no guessing as to why: he is so obviously in love with the strip-mined, paint-peeling, garbage-scented corner of the world he has created and peopled. Most beloved of all the places in this rancid, dyspeptic Emerald City is Mr. Bonestripper, a rust-pitted, rattling death trap of a roller coaster that deposits all riders into the gaping maw of a demonically-grinning, razor-toothed abattoir.

When Chevy Chase is sent to his doom on Mr. Bonestripper, the Teller of Tales randomly decides that he must live in order to satisfy the whim of the moviegoers and this turd-colored Oz comes apart at the coal seams, creeping flame and seismic disruptions signaling The End to this wondrous funhouse of a town.

The proper ending, to be included in the eventual Special Edition Blu-Ray release, will have Chase's character swallowed whole by Mr. Bonestripper, his remains fed to pigs and dogs and this whacked-right-out-its-skull Oz would continue on, business as usual, providing homes and work for all who dwell there.

Nothing But Trouble was a dreamy return to simpler times, when visitors to small, out of the way towns were treated properly: greeted as friends, fed a healthy meal, shown to a bed and, during the night, brained with a sledgehammer. Organs would be sold on the black market and what's left fed to the dogs; the car sold to the junkman down the road for a few extra dollars.

For me, this movie just works, though the ending could use some fixin'.

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