Sitting down to watch Doctor Detroit after having no contact with the flick for over ten years is a little like being forced to have "coffee & cake" with that one estranged uncle we all have. There he is, a lot more grimy and misshapen than you remember from your childhood, and now completely lacking in that irreverent goofiness that you (somehow) remember so fondly.
Doctor Detroit is that grungy old uncle, and frankly, you won't be able to get him out of your house quickly enough. Now, if you've ever read my reviews of titles like Stripes, The Jerk, or The Blues Brothers, then you're already well aware of my oft-acknowledged affection for comedies of this era. If it was release between 1978 and 1985, if it was a comedy, and if it featured anyone with the names Martin, Murray, Belushi, Chase, or Aykroyd, I've seen it. At least six times.
But while I do harbor some fuzzy and fun-filled memories of me and my movie-buddies having some laughs with Doctor Detroit, well, let's just say that back then I was a stupid kid who'd probably have laughed at anything. Because, and this is me being kind, Doctor Detroit has not exactly aged all that well. And now that I'm old enough to notice such things, I cannot forgive the flick for its drab direction, its ceaselessly unamusing premise, and a screenplay that borders on worthless.
Given the chance to "cut loose and get wacky," the seriously talented Dan Aykroyd hits the pool with an audibly thwacking belly-flop. And I ask this next question as a longtime fan of Aykroyd's work: "Is this a guy known for cutting loose and getting wacky?" Dare I say no, and not even close. Aykroyd's best work comes when he's being earnestly nerdy (Ghostbusters), dangerously deadpan (The Blues Brothers), pompously authoritative (his performance in Dragnet is reason enough to suffer through the thing), or a combination thereof (Grosse Pointe Blank). If there's a role that demands a comedian who can successfully dress up in a bunch of goofy costumes and deliver the wacky, I can think of a dozen guys I'd hire before Dan Aykroyd.
Plus it's not like the guy's any sort of leading man; his best moments come when working alongside folks like Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, or Chevy Chase, or when he's given a really juicy supporting role. Dan Aykroyd is not Jim Carrey -- although I doubt that even Mr. Carrey could salvage the rather garish R-rated sitcom known as Doctor Detroit.
The plot gives us a snooty college professor who through a series of truly moronic plot contrivances, is required to pretend that he's a nefarious pimp with strange speech patterns, a metal hand, and a really ugly wig. When Aykroyd's stuck in the milquetoast role, he does a fine job ... even if it's not all that funny. But when the Doctor persona comes out to play, the result is pretty damn embarrassing, not only for Mr. Aykroyd, but for anyone who happens to be watching the movie past its 45th tiresome minute.
Like any sex comedy produced in the early 80s, Doctor Detroit features a bunch of familiar faces: TK Carter, Fran Drescher, Donna Dixon, Howard Hesseman, Lynn Whitfield, and a few others bounce around the periphery, very few of them given anything worthwhile to do. The witless screenplay comes from a trio of scribes who've done infinitely better work: Carl Gottlieb adapted Peter Benchley's Jaws for the big screen; Robert Boris penned the not-half-bad Richard Pryor vehicle Some Kind of Hero; and Bruce Friedman wrote The Lonely Guy, as well as Splash & Stir Crazy.
Odd that their combined efforts would yield such a resoundingly laugh-free spectacle, but we can perhaps attribute some of Doctor Detroit's ineffectiveness to director Michael Pressman. Literally everything in the film is cheap-looking, chintzy, and bland. There's no sense of forward momentum, plot structure, or escalating comedic craziness; this thing is like a feature-length SNL skit, and it's the sort of sketch that they'd air right before the end credits.
Video: Universal releases the comedy in a pretty decent Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic transfer, which should please the fans quite a bit. The flick doesn't exactly look like its gone any major repolishing, but considering the age and artistic caliber of the movie, the picture quality is better than one might expect.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with optional subtitles in English, Spanish, or French. Nothing too fancy here, folks, but good enough to warrant a listen ... if you're already a diehard fan of the Doctor.
Extras: None whatsoever.
Part of me wishes that I hadn't just revisited Doctor Detroit. In my memory banks it was a fairly funny little sex farce, but now that I just forced myself to sit through this massive chore of a comedy with fresh eyes, I have to strike the flick from my Guilty Pleasures list forever. As much as I still dig the Aykroyd, I find myself somewhat amazed that his career survived movies like this one (and Caddyshack 2 ... and Nothing But Trouble ... and My Stepmother Is an Alien ... and Loose Cannons ... and...)