Injustice in the DVD world is deeply troubling to me. I mean, here we have a brand spanking new disc for Shakes the Clown (1991, 87 minutes), while the collective works of the late great Jim Varney's Ernest P. Worrell go unpreserved. It's a travesty. Varney made Ernest Goes to Camp and then hauled off and did EIGHT more rib ticklers before cancer sent him to the Pratt Fall Academy in the Sky. All Bobcat Goldthwait has ever done is set fire
to the "Tonight Show" set and shack up with tasty "Unhappily Ever After" costar, Nikki Cox. Hmmm. Maybe I protest too quickly. Clearly the man's got his priorities in order. Goldthwait wrote, directed and starred in Shakes, which isn't nearly as terrible as you'd think. Actually, it's pretty dang funny.
The movie: Shakes is a clown with a drinking problem. But when it comes to his craft he's a real pro bozo. He does magic tricks. Fashions ballon animals. The little nose miners just love him. After hours, though, it's off to The Twisted Balloon where he boozes with his own kind. It takes about 50 MINUTES before any real plot starts to get going. That's about the time Shakes gets framed for murder. And to get into too much detail beyond that point, would really spoil things. What's really surprising is that this is a Bobcat movie without the Whuuuu -ahhhh -ehhhh-uh! persona that made him famous in all those Police Academy movies. Sure he twitches here and there, but he shows amazing restraint. Bobcat lets the absurdity of the costumes and situations drive the comedy. Not at all what you'd expect. And not to get overly analytical, but there's even a subtext concerning racial and sexual discrimination. In Palukaville, clowns are most always in their makeup and over-sized shoes. They coexist with regular society, but aren't necessarily equals. For example, a gas station owner sees Shakes and tells a buddy, "You know, when we built this place, there wasn't a clown in the area." And even within the clowns there's splinters: rodeo clowns and mimes. Rodeo clowns are rough characters, at the top of the clown food chain. Mimes? Well, everyone HATES mimes. One of the funniest scenes involves a group of clowns who spot some mimes, and immediately chase them down and beat them relentlessly. Funny stuff. But what lies beneath is food for thought. Wait. Did I just try and make sense of this goldang movie? OK. Sorry, I knew that film course was gonna do nothing but monkey up my brain. The cast is chock full of comedians. A veritable who's who of washed up and retasked standup comics. Most notable, today, being Adam Sandler as Dink the Clown. It's not a huge part. Listen closely for his dialogue during the mime-bashing scene. The most horrifying cameo, which must be SEEN to be believed, is by "Brady Bunch" mom, Florence Henderson.
Notables: No breasts. One corpse. Midget mime. Gratuitous urination. Multiple puking. Exploding cigar. Clown racking. Gratuitous detective in fedora. Police chase with crash. Mime bashing. Exploding clown car. Throwing knife attack. Ball polishing. Candy Land cheating. Bad harmonica playing. Gratuitous Sydney Lassick.
Quotables: Lucy (Kathy Griffin) tells Shakes' girlfriend Judy (Julie Brown), "You gotta lose this guy. A bad clown can really F@%#! you up." Shakes' boss, Owen Cheese (Paul Dooley), professes, "A clown
is the difference between a party and a really NICE party" and "Say, wait a minute! You clowns are on dope!"
Time codes: Wacky KLARD morning zoo radio show (4:05). Shakes suits up for a gig (6:35). La Wanda Page's hilariously filthy riff on her femininity (9:25). Cop in background puts gun to a suspect's head (32:40). Clowns engage in anti-mime hate crime (35:45). Robin Williams as an instructor at The Invisible Rope mime studio (59:55).
Audio/Video: Good, clear image and sound. Presented in its original widescreen (1.85:5) format, with Dolby 2.0 surround.
Extras: Theatrical trailer.
Final thought: There's something darkly amusing about a bunch of clowns who curse and guzzle booze. Tom Kenny's performance as the evil Binky the Clown is especially inspired. Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.