Among other distinctions, the landmark comedy program, Saturday Night Live (SNL), has provided a steady flow of comic talent to the big screen. Fans of the show, which is still running strong, make fine distinctions among the various comedians who came out of this show. They are quick to point out that Dan Aykroyd was an original member, or that Eddie Murphy belongs to a younger generation.
Two new comedies, Coneheads and So I Married An Axe Murderer, feature skillful comedians who began their careers or made their mark on SNL. Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin, stars of Coneheads, are older than Mike Myers, the dominant spirit of Axe Murderer. The two movies display different comic sensibilities and different humor, which are attributable to the talents of their respective performers–and their generation too.
Mike Myers' So I Married an Axe Murder is a more successful and funnier enterprise than Conheads, if you forget its pretention to also be a suspenseful thriller. The movie is a mishmash of styles: a fairy tale, romantic comedy, psychological thriller, and serious drama, all commenting on its central character, a paranoid young man who is petrified of relationships.
Charlie Mckenzie (Myers) has had his share of bad luck with women: Sherri was a klepto; Jill turned out to be a member of the Mafia; Pam smelled like soup, and so on. With such a past, it's no wonder that for Charlie, the M word (marriage) is just one step away from that fate in the foretold chilling phrase: “Till death do us part.”
One day Charlie spots Harriet Michaels (Nancy Travis), a beautiful girl who works as a butcher in “Meats of the World.” Almost reluctantly, he begins an affair with her. Then, just as he's determined to overcome the apprehension that has sabotaged his former relationships, old doubts reappear. Despite his best intentions not to find fault with his new love, he begins to suspect that Harriet might be the very killer he's been reading about in the tabloids: a woman who marries–and minces–her husbands in quick succession.
The film's premise is quite a good one: how does a person get over his/her doubts about his/her life partner. For a change, the movie deals with relationship problems from a male perspective–specifically the fear of some men that women are out there to destroy them. Myers, who recently got married, decided to do Axe Murderer because he liked the concept of fear of marriage. “Charlie is a real romantic and very innocent,” Myers said when I interviewed him, “He has the heart of the poet and he wants to get married, but he's the kind of guy who's afraid that if he gets married, he's going to die.” Myers wished to show how for some young men “commitment equals marriage, marriage equals getting old, and getting old equals death.”
A native Canadian, Myers established reputation as a major comic voices as he joined SNL, in l989. One of Myers' first sketches, “Wayne's World,” in which he starred as Wayne Campbell, a heavy metal fan who hosts a cable-access show from his basement, was an instant hit with audiences. That sketch later became the basis of the hit film Wayne's World, co-starring Dana Carvey.
Because Charlie is a poet, director Thomas Schlamme decided to shoot the tale in San Francisco, a city associated with poetry and bohemia. Perceived by many as a romantic city, San Francisco also evokes the spirit of Hitchcock who shot his masterpiece, Vertigo, there. The ending of Axe Murderer, a rather silly resolution of the mystery, is an attempt to spoof several of Hitchcock movies.
Schlamme, whose directorial credits include the film Miss Firecracker (with Holly Hunter); TV' The Wonder Years, and comedy specials for Whoopi Goldberg and Bette Midler, shows great facility with actors. I'm not sure it was such a good idea for Myers to play a dual role: Charlie and his old father, which he does with a heavy accent and rigid mannerisms. In contrast, as his love interest, Nancy Travis gives a natural, endearing performance, one that showcases her qualities of warmth, humor, and compassion.
As one would expect from a Mike Myers movie, all the characters are eccentrics. Amanda Plummer plays Rose, Harriet's mysterious, offbeat sister, an artist with a very dark vision of life. Brenda Fricker, so memorable for her Oscar-winning role as the mother in My Left Foot, appears as Charlie's very Scottish, very dotty mother. Playing a wacky woman, Fricker wears false boobs, false nails, false hair, but there is nothing fake about her emotions or conduct. As in Coneheads, there are great cameo appearances by such distinguished comic actors as Charles Grodin, Phil Hartman, Michael Richards, Steven Wright, and others.
Should you have to choose one comedy, I would recommend So I Married an Axe Murderer which, with all its flaws, boasts humor that is hipper, fresher and more sophisticated. Perhaps too sophisticated: The film makes references to Jack Kerouac and the Beat generation that younger audiences–the fans of Myers and SNL–would probably not recognize because of their age.