Movie Review–A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Written by John Cleese
Directed by Charles Crichton
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, John Cleese, and Michael Palin
Length: 1 hr 48 min
Rated R for Language and Sexual Content

Available on Netflix

Michael Palin and Kevin Kline in

Michael Palin and Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda”

If you have a weak heart, please watch this film with caution–you could be in danger. But not for the reasons you might think. It’s not overly sad or excessively gory, just incredibly funny. In 1989, in Denmark a man named Ole Bentzen literally died from laughing while watching the film in the theater. During the scene that gives the film its name, his heart rate approached 500 beats per minute! It’s terrible I guess, because a guy died and all, but what a way to go. Forget about a blaze of glory. I wanna die in a fit of laughter.

This movie is possibly the funniest I’ve ever seen. The story centers on a gang of diamond thieves who score some major loot, then proceed to double cross each other. Confusion and hilarity ensue as personalities collide. There’s George (Tom Georgeson), the British mastermind of the operation, who gets nabbed for the crime. His right-hand man is Ken (Michael Palin), a stuttering animal lover who seems to care more for his fish than the diamonds. Then there’s Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), the sultry American who uses her sexuality to manipulate every male character she crosses. And finally, Otto, the cocky, egotistical American played by Kevin Kline, who earned an Oscar for his role.

Kline can make just about anything funny, including torture and animal cruelty. The funniest scene–the scene that almost made me go into cardiac arrest myself–was actually a sex scene. It begins with Otto inhaling the air from Wanda’s leather boot to get himself worked up, then blurting out random Italian phrases during “the deed”, and finishing with the goofiest O-face in the history of cinema.

A great strength of the movie is the way it marries the best of British and American comedy. Kline carries the American side, but then enters John Cleese as bumbling Archie, the lawyer representing George in the theft case. Cleese is in good old Monty Python form here–loud and awkward, yet still charmingly British. Whenever the two characters collide, it creates a perfect comedic environment.

Another great strength of the movie is that it actually has a good story. I think many of today’s comedies lack the suspense and conflict that are required to create interesting characters and memorable moments, and instead use the story as an excuse for one-liners and slapstick. A Fish Called Wanda, on the other hand, would be good even if it wasn’t funny. It was made by people who remember that comedy comes from the situations, not the dialogue. And it delivers big time.

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 11.01.58 PM

4 out of 4 stars

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