Every celebrity has them - those cinematic skeletons in the closet that signify the first flop sweaty step toward their inevitable super stardom. When Leo Dicaprio is trying to woo a wild wench and prove that he's more than just a pretty face (albeit one that is carefully marketed to the masses) chances are he's not throwing Critters 4 onto his home theater to impress the Miss. Good old Kevin Costner, who may actually be proud of such puke as The Postman and Dragonfly, certainly hangs his head in semi-shame for being the beneficiary of such slumming chum as Shadows Run Black or Sizzle Beach, U.S.A. Robert DeNiro has Bloody Mama mauling at his legend and George Clooney has Return to Horror High reeking up his resume (and, like we promised, we won't be bringing up that stint on The Facts of Life, okay Georgie old boy? Cool).
Well, we can now add two time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman to the compendium of crap – Sphere and Ishtar aside - as Troma unleashes, or maybe the better word is 'expels', a long lost loogie on the veneer of Dusty's Method mythology. Part comedy, part badly dubbed foreign crime fart, the man who would soon be that ultimate 60s idealist, Benjamin Braddock, solidified his future fame by flying off to Rome and starring in the incredibly insipid grade-Z schlock spunk known as Madigan'$ Million$. Released the same year (1969) as another iconic turn by the man named Hoff - Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy - this crass cash-in on the D-dude's newfound novelty is more painful than a case of fully developed, epidermis tunneling scabies. There is not even a corny kitsch value here, as the movie takes itself too seriously to be anything other than bad.
Ex-patriot mobster Mike Madigan has been living in Rome for several years, where he has given up one life of crime (international mob boss in the US) for another fairly crooked racket – he's an insurance salesman. Too bad Mike was unaware of the high bounty put out on individuals who indemnify others, and he is soon the subject of a hit, properly ventilated and stumbling down the Via Plotpoint. After stopping off at his family's house to deliver a blood drenched apple containing a hidden key, he continues his death knell constitutional until he finally kicks the proverbial bucket near a construction site. Apparently, he was too pooped to put on the cement shoes, though he knew where he could get the supplies.
Anyway, when officials in the IRS learn that Madigan has met his maker, they have two immediate concerns on their hands. First, they wonder if he filed a Form 706CE (an allowance to claim FOREIGN death taxes on your 1040), and second, they want to know where he placed the reported $1 million he supposedly absconded with. They need to send an agent overseas to solve the case, so the big boss calls on junior joke Jason Fister to take the precarious field assignment. Vowing to find the stash of cash or whine trying, Jason arrives in the Eternal City and immediately gets on everyone's nerves. Soon, the cops are after him, the American embassy is disavowing him, the local gangsters are gunning for him and a semi-attractive Italian lass is giving him the biggest brush-off of his career. Yet between all the assassination attempts, foiled frame-ups and substandard clues, Fister remains determined. He will find Madigan'$ Million$....or die trying.
Madigan'$ Million$ is a moldy monkey ass of a movie. It stinks like a skunk's soiled shorthairs and will leave you spent and suicidal after 90 some agonizing minutes of meandering mediocrity. To call this cinematic atrocity anything other than a blight on all that is human, holy or halter-topped is disingenuous, or just plain dumb. There is nothing remotely entertaining in this story, not a single likeable character onscreen, and the acting wavers between outright rotten to 'must be mugging for another movie' mind-blowing. Worse, this stifling bog of stench actually thinks it's a comedy, or better yet, has delusions of half-wit hilarity, as it tries to mesh (unsuccessfully mind you) several stale subgenres of film into one coherent corncob. Oddly enough, it only succeeds in the staged stool sample department.
Naturally, the hyper-mega-super-duper stardom of one Dustin Hoffman is the only reason this melanoma of a movie sees the light of dreary day some 38 years after it was made. But don't think you'll be finding some hidden talent treasure in his pathetic performance as Jason Fister. Oh, he is the best thing in the film, trying his unsure damnedest to be a professional IRS agent, a crack mystery solver, a loveable ladies man and a genial goof all at the same time. Sadly, the best he can come up with is an amalgamation of awkwardness, a character carved out of cluelessness and compunction. Stammering like a pre-Annie Alvy Singer and bumbling like he's imbued with sloppy slapstick in his DNA, Hoffman's harried desk jockey turned field foul-up is no one we can root for. We may want to shoot at him, but we can simply leave that up to the rest of the characters in this cold sore of a film.
As for the rest of the so-called cast, they seem imported from another film all together, tossed on screen with Hoffman, and forced to deliver their dull dialogue in their nonsensical native tongue, only to have the whole horrid pooting match re-dubbed by equally uninspired voice talent. The result is a narrative full of annoyances, as actors never seem to be on the same page, either linguistically or emotionally. That lost and flummoxed look Hoffman carries on his far too young mug for most of the movie is not the result of his sense memory, but having to be on the set with these perplexing performers. When Elsa Martenilli tries to act stubborn, she seems spoiled and when we finally get around to possible paramour territory, she appears disinterested instead of mad with desire. Everything about Madigan'$ Million$ is dull and dreary. And any of you Cesar Romero fans out there can save your centavos. Our jaded Joker has the merest of cameos, bowing out with a few bullets before the credits are even fully finished.
Maybe if Madigan'$ Million$ had some kind of crackerjack plot, where the hints heighten the suspense and turn the story into a kind of brain teaser on celluloid, then we might be able to forgive all the flubs. But the narrative here is the lamest, most lunkheaded excuse for a hidden treasure tale ever conceived. There is no real rhyme or reason to the way in which Madigan "hides" his money. Indeed, it is more or less left out in the open for anyone to find it. Then, if we are to believe the set up, he has the time to devise a clue, hide it in his filing cabinet (which was either empty to begin with, or he then empties), get shot, stumble around town, bleed profusely, stash the key to the cabinet in a conveniently available apple near his home, visit his next of kin, leave them the forbidden fruit and then plop some tell tale blood stains and hand prints on various signs, all to append the initial note that he just wrote. Right. It's hard to know what is more difficult to believe: the Rube Goldberg ridiculousness of said set up, or that Hoffman's jackass Jason could put 2 and 2 together and decipher anything tangible from this dung.
Thanks to a strangled, subdued pace, a dire lack of ancillary amusements and a tone that keeps shape-shifting for the sake of the running time, Madigan'$ Million$ is paralyzingly poor. At 90 minutes, it feels 4 hours too long. It never allows us the chance to get a handle on the actual adversaries in the film. As we follow along with Fister's folly, we're not sure if we should fear the mob, the US government, that weird fat kid with the womanly voice (Elsa Martenilli's fey onscreen son, Michael) or the police. Indeed, about 45 minutes into the movie, there is a sudden implication made that the cops are in on the Madigan money deal, and don't want Fister to find the lost lettuce. But this is never fully developed. Instead, we are left wondering why the fuzz falsifies leads, constantly arrest Fister, and put procedural roadblocks up in the investigation. While it may seem sinister, your gut feeling will tend more toward incompetence than complicity.
Yet even if all the incomplete issues were resolved and the film had found a tone somewhere in the Topkapi/ Who's Minding the Mint style of crime comedy, Madigan'$ Million$ would still feel like a made on the cheap bit of tax sheltering, a chance for a few moneymen to lose some liability in the streets of Rome and the studios of Spain. This is moviemaking at its most rote, uninspired and confused. Dustin Hoffman is responsible for many memorable moments in the canon of film. Even the cameo-ing Romero had his limited limelight fling during the golden days of the Hollywood studio system. No one should have something so horrid as part of their less than illustrious past. Madigan'$ Million$ is a stain that no amount of future fame can ever truly wash away.
Looking like it was kept in producer Sid Pink's inoperative iron lung until it rusted and rotted, Troma's terrible 1.33:1 transfer of this title is disturbingly bad. It's a safe bet that this is a cropped, panned and scanned syndicated UHF version of the film, as the framing never once attempts anything stylish or interesting. Besides, the movie was originally filmed in full 35mm. But the horrible aspect ratio has nothing on the hideous, washed out color. Madigan'$ Million$ feels mildewed and old, looking every bit its near 40 years in age...and then some. The movie is a muddle of browns and maroons, resembling the dried bloody puke of a wino, and there is no detail-creating contrast to be found. Overall, the image is as heinous as the film, and in combination with the atrocious sound (see below), this is one bad DVD package.
The soundtrack to Madigan'$ Million$ is a recycled rip-off of every swinging 60s Latin tinged samba silliness, with a few actual direct melodic lifts from classic tunes. Showing up every once in a while to divert our ears away from the almost indecipherable dialogue, it is the sole semi-decent feature of this entire film...and it still sucks. As for the dubbing, let's use a visual representation of how conversations occur in Madigan'$ Million$. Let's start with:
Cop: Fister, you are a moron.
Fister: I beg to differ.
Now, this is what you hear while listening to this movie:
Cop: Fiss, you...r...ron.
Fister:I egg to fur.
Enveloped in so much murky cotton crud that you barely understand anything that is going on, the Dolby Digital Stereo licks non-hallucinogenic toad butt, from the decibel gloom to the sometimes shrill doom of the auditory elements. It's a trifecta of tripe, as the technical and artistic issues share the same substandard heritage.
If there is a single reason to ever see this DVD, it's to watch Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman's hilarious introduction to the film. Trying his best to put on the bravest of faces, but eventually breaking down and deriding this douche bag of a diorama, Kaufman is in rare form, taking on any and all aspects of the film with cool critical cattiness. Along with a bunch of additional Troma based marketing and merchandising material, the only other extra worth checking out is an interview with Madigan'$ Million$ producer Sid Pink. Kind of resembling the Cryptkeeper as imagined by David Lynch and permanently pissed off, Sid is seen seated at what looks like a convention table, surrounded by promotions for his film. The old man is a hoot, since he is livid about the way his films have been treated by both the critics and the distribution companies. He also expresses nothing but love for Troma and their respect for this work (Sid obviously didn't see Lloyd's intro). Though there really isn't very much to it, this bonus does allow us to ponder one man's incredible case of age-related self-delusion. Had his brain been fresher, it's impossible to think he would champion this Hoffman-based hooey.
When Troma does insane independent movies or just plain bizarre B-movie horror, the results are usually resplendent. No one captures the craziness and the corniness of such cinema better than the notorious NYC company. But when it comes to motion picture preservationists, Troma ain't no Criterion. Heck, they are hardly a Roan, which is their own forgotten feature defender. Of course, Madigan'$ Million$ doesn't need saving. It requires a quick, quiet mercy killing instead. Unless you are a raging insomniac and necessitate something to put you to sleep fast (and can't find a friend to apply a 2x4 to the back of your skull), there is no reason to partake of this lame Mediterranean misery. Dustin Hoffman may have many notable roles that feed and fluff his regal reputation, but something like Madigan'$ Million$ could destroy it all in a single showing. It really is that potently putrid.
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