Sunday, May 19, 2013

Movie Review: High Anxiety

Stars: 2 out of 5
Pros: A few scenes really made me laugh
Cons: The majority of the movie didn't
The Bottom Line:
A few funny scenes
In a slow, plodding movie
Didn't laugh enough

Make Watching High Anxiety a Low Priority

Recently, I've found myself really getting into Hitchcock's movies.  So when I found out that Mel Brooks had spoofed the Master with High Anxiety, I had to watch it.  Normally, I don't enjoy Mr. Brooks, but I set that aside to watch this movie.  I should have passed.

Richard H. Thorndyke (Mel Brooks), a psychiatrist with a fear of heights, has landed the job as the new head of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.  When he arrives, he learns that his predecessor died under mysterious circumstances.  As he tries to settle in, he finds that Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) seems to know the patients well, while Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) runs a very tight ship.

Just before Thorndyke leaves for a conference in San Francisco, Dr. Wentworth (Dick van Patten), another doctor at the institute, dies in a freak accident.  Then Thorndyke is accused of murder.  Is there something sinister going on at the institute?

There are two scenes that specifically spoof Hitchcock.  They are absolutely brilliant, and I couldn't stop laughing at them.  There are also plenty of references to Hitchcockian things that I enjoyed spotting.  At one point, Mel Brooks sings a song entitled "High Anxiety."  Despite the fact that he is only a fair singer, I enjoyed the song, too.

If only the rest of the movie lived up to those moments.

Like most Mel Brooks movies, the "plot" is really just an excuse for a series of sketches.  I suspected that going in, but I kept watching the film, waiting for the action to pick up.  Even when things do get more exciting, it wasn't enough to fully engross me.

So the success or failure of the film rests on the sketches.  A few made me laugh, but most of them fell flat, producing very little reaction from me.  Even worse, some of them were very tasteless.  Like most Mel Brooks movies, I'm sure it would be rated PG-13 if it were released today.

The acting was pretty poor, too.  Mel Brooks can't act well enough to be the leading man.  I never really bought him as Thorndyke.  But he had some serious competition for worst actor.  The cast is filled with top comedians from the 70's.  Here, they just weren't that funny.  Frankly, I can't think of one performance I believed.  Everyone was too busy hamming it up for the camera to actually, you know, act.

Since the movie was filmed in Los Angeles and San Francisco, I did get a kick out of seeing some places as they looked 30+ years ago.  I especially enjoyed seeing how little LAX has changed.  I also recognized the Hyatt used for much of the action in the second half.  It was perfect for the plot.

Outside of the locations and a few jokes, there is little to recommend High Anxiety.  If you are a Hitchcock fan, you really don't need to watch it.  I honestly think only Mel Brooks enthusiasts would enjoy it.

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