A Fish Called Wanda Movie Review

I believe that if A Fish Called Wanda opened today, it would make at least $100 million, and possibly more if it weren't sharing screens with Borat and the next comedian of the month after Dane Cook and his five o'clock shadow fade away. What's odd is that Wanda, like Midnight Run, hasn't become part of the pop culture lexicon like Animal House, Blazing Saddles, or Airplane! That shouldn't be a deterrent. It's relentlessly funny, smart, and has a tremendous cast.

The Wanda of the title is named after a very lovely American (Jamie Lee Curtis) who is involved in a London jewel heist organized by her temporary lover, Georges (Tom Georgeson). Working a long con, Wanda recruits her boyfriend Otto (Kline) for the gig and has him squeal on Georges. The plan works except Georges hides the diamonds.

Wanda finds a key for a safe deposit box, but nothing else. Enter George's barrister, Archie Leach (John Cleese, also the movie's writer), who Wanda gradually seduces to get more information. For Archie, suffering from an unbearable domestic life, falling in love with Wanda is inevitable, triggering a string of hysterical events, most involving a very jealous Otto.

Cleese's script never stops moving, a good thing that becomes great because he fills it with clever, borderline-vulgar physical comedy (an animal-loving hit man who keeps killing an old lady's dogs in increasingly gruesome ways; the comparison of Otto and Wanda's love life with Archie's) and terrific dialogue (Wanda's speech on the depths of Otto's stupidity). It's a marvel of a script, brilliantly stupid in the mode of the aforementioned classics, and not in a "Hey, that old lady is rapping" kind of way.

It's a given that in a movie this funny, the cast would be good. Cleese and Michael Palin, comedy gods in some circles, are terrific, with Palin's PETAish grief over accidentally killing three dogs a perfect definition of ironic humor. But it's Kline who steals the movie, playing the quintessential ugly American, the kind of arrogant dolt who believes the British are the ones driving on the wrong side of the road. He infuses the movie with malevolent, blissful energy, whether he's eating live fish or complaining about the mannerisms of the British. Kline won an Academy Award for his performance, and it's one of the few times where the Academy's judgment should be universally lauded.

With a collector's edition now available on DVD, featuring commentary by Cleese and nearly 30 minutes of deleted scenes, featurettes (new and old), and a trivia track, it's the right time to watch A Fish Called Wanda, so it can finally get the quotable legacy it so richly deserves. And by the way, Aristotle wasn't Belgian. I looked it up.


A Fish Called Wanda Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 1988


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