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It's extremely easy for the poor to lose everything in America. But if you're wealthy, our system of unchecked capitalism will find a way to reward you for even the most frivolous behavior. That's why George Barr McCutcheon's early 20th Century novel, Brewster's Millions, is one of those quintessentially American stories that have been adapted numerous times in Hollywood history.
Director Walter Hill's 1985 version came at an opportune time for an update on the tale of a common man named Brewster (Richard Pryor), who inherits 300 million dollars from a cranky long lost relative (Hume Cronyn). But of course there's a catch: Brewster has to spend 30 million dollars in 30 days. If he manages to get through all of that money without a penny of assets accumulated, he gets the 300 big ones. The premise is ripe for a farce with a side of satire, about American's distinct worship of money, and a culture that further rewards wealth at any cost. With the selfish yuppie culture dominating the decade, Brewster's Millions could have been one of the prime takedowns of thoughtless excess during the ‘80s.
What we get instead is a charming comedy that focuses more on the premise's effect on the small cadre of characters, rather than a sociopolitical satire with a wider thematic touch. Brewster is the charismatic and energetic everyman that Pryor perfected during the ‘80s. Even though he might have been the funniest person of his generation, or any generation for that matter, on stage, Pryor's film career never really captured his raw and honest comedy that revolutionized stand-up.
He admitted that a lot of the film projects he took on at the time were decision made for financial reasons, and with dreck like Moving on his resume, it's hard to blame the man for coming up with any excuse. Yet even though Brewster's Millions has its problems, Pryor isn't one of them. His manically playful persona pops up every now and then, but Pryor portrays Brewster as more of a warm-hearted, working class Capra figure.
The main issues with Brewster's Millions aren't related to things that could have been cut, but narrative elements that could have been added or reshaped. The great John Candy plays Brewster's best friend, Spike. By every means a supporting character, Spike's entire part is to comment on Brewster's crazy behavior as he burns through 30 million dollars. Candy isn't given anything to do with such a passive character, and even though his naturally lovable aura comes through, it could have added so much more to the story if Spike was given a sub-plot of his own.
Brewster's Millions follows a fairly episodic structure, showing Brewster jumping from one adventure to another as he finds ways of spending his money. One of those adventures involves a quite biting satire of modern politics, where Brewster spends millions of dollars in the New York governor's race, only to tell everyone not to vote for him, or the other candidates. This is a wild, Bulworth-type premise for a great takedown of our broken political system. Yet it feels a bit rushed as it taps in just at the tail end of the second act.
Shout's 1080p transfer is very clean, while maintaining the film's period look. It's not scrubbed to the point of making it look like it was shot on digital, but it's also crisp enough to warrant the upgrade to HD. There aren't any visible scratches or other video noise.
The DTS-HD 2.0 is fine in terms of showing dynamic range during the film's many chaotic dialogue scenes as Brewster heads out on the town to bathe people in money. Ry Cooder's electric blues score kicks the track into high gear. Too bad there wasn't a 5.1 remix, but this is a perfectly fine lossless track nevertheless.
Audio Commentary by William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold: The hosts of the Critically Acclaimed podcast provide a fun and informative commentary that digs into the history of the book, its many adaptations, and the details behind the 1985 production. What I also really enjoyed here is that they don't shy away from pointing out the film's flaws, while obviously being big fans of it.
Interview with Co-screenwriter Herschel Weingrow: In this 12-minute interview, Weingrow dives into the development of the script, which was first written as a vehicle for Bill Murray.
Brewster's Millions (1945): Out of nowhere, Shout hits us with a whole other feature, turning this collector's edition into a small box set. The 1945 adaptation of the novel is more of a smaller budget screwball comedy. Check it out if you're interested in another take on the same premise.
We also get a Trailer and a Still Gallery.
Even though Brewster's Millions isn't a home run by any means, it contains enough kernels of a great satire for its time, as well as a Capra-esque tale of wholesome people winning against American greed, for a quick watch. Shout's jam-packed release certainly makes it an easier buy.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com