“I got my Christmas goose early”
If a band like Atlantic Starr is singing your movie’s theme song, it’s a pretty easy guess you’re from the 1980s. To most this tag is a detriment but others wear it like a badge of honor. Armed and Dangerous is one such film, letting the likes of John Candy and Eugene Levy run with its simple comedic plot as director Mark L. Lester hones his action expertise in order to destroy a bunch of cars with a renegade sixteen-wheeler, rocket fuel, and guided missiles. Leave it to Los Angeles to provide the perfect fodder for such a volatile mix of explosive material and brainless eccentrics on which to garner laughs.
Beginning with Candy’s genial yet tough cop Frank Dooley motionless at the top of a tall tree after rescuing Fluffy the kitten for a tear-streaked little brat, it takes barely a minute for the comedian to find a groove with his trademarked passive sarcasm. He’s the kind of good natured, by-the-books guy you want protecting the populace, but a run-in with some co-workers moonlighting as electronic store thieves soon finds him holding the bag and taking the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. Disgraced and job-less, Dooley decides to do the one thing a man with his expertise can do—private security.
Levy’s Norman Kane’s journey to the same occupation is a bit more random as his most recent case as a lawyer finds him unworthy of holding a career with such heavy responsibility. A dweeby guy afraid of what his ill-served clients will do to him once released from the clink, his willingness to try and help a kidnapping, murdering madman with a swastika on his forehead go free becomes the last straw. Looking to beef up his confidence and tone down the cowardice, I guess making his way to Guard Dog Security isn’t too far-fetched, especially once you see the bottom-feeders the company allows to hold a gun with discretionary carte blanche.
Fast friends by default being the only two in the company’s training course who can speak in complete sentences, Dooley and Kane turn this flick into a solid buddy comedy with the former’s penchant for causing trouble and the latter’s desire to run from it as fast as he can. Stationed at a pharmaceutical company to work the night shift, it’s an armed robbery occurring under suspicious circumstances while on break that propels their novice deductive reasoning skills into leading them to believe the security firm is in on the crime. Joining forces with their Captain’s (Kenneth McMillan) daughter Maggie (Meg Ryan), the boys attempt to take down the bay guys, save millions of the guards’ stolen loot, and survive the fact they are completely out of their element.
Written by funny man Harold Ramis and 80s scribe Peter Torokvei, the story’s conception adds a couple odd names in James Keach and Brian Grazer. Neither prolific in the ways of writing, it’s most funny to me that Ron Howard‘s crazy-haired friend and powerhouse producer Grazer cut his teeth on 80s laughers such as this. Granted, a story credit could mean little in comparison to the actual scenario and dialogue scripting, but it’s still an interesting morsel of cinema trivia nonetheless. It’s not like the film itself is poorly written either, there simply isn’t much going on. However, despite being a straightforward story contrived enough to try and make every character crucial to the over-arching conspiracy at its core, there are a couple dynamite comedic bits.
Although the villains are two-dimensional with tough guy attitudes like Brion James and Jonathan Banks or Robert Loggia’s guido-fied yeller devoid of nuance, their simplicity nicely counters Candy and Levy’s more complex roles. The perfect pair of neuroses and contrasting levels of assertiveness, Candy’s Dooley forever bullies Levy’s Kane into escaping his comfort zone. Ryan’s Maggie is introduced to add some romantic flavor, but her performance is more generic than the villains and way too broad to be anything more than a pawn caught as a middleman in the whole good versus evil dynamic built between Guard Dog employees and the Union fleecing them of hard-earned dollars. Frankly, bimbos K.C. Winkler and Judy Landers have much more going for them on this avenue than Meg.
Our dual leads don’t have the most fully formed characters either, but there is a sense of evolution and growth we can latch onto—especially with Levy who I’ve never seen in a starring role quite like this. Generally relegated to supporting parts like in Best in Show, Bringing Down the House, or as the epitome of suburban patriarch in American Pie, he really shines here. Given some highly entertaining gags like an extended, full-suit wearing stay in the sauna or donning leather ass-less chaps and a great effeminate lisp inside a XXX club to riff on opposite Candy, I’m surprised he never found more success in the decade post-“SCTV“. Besides quick glimpses at familiar faces from the 90s like Billy Madison‘s Larry Hankin and Friday‘s Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Levy is the highlight.
Not praising Eugene too much, one must also acknowledge Canadian cohort Candy as a big part of his success. As good as ever without too much to do, Armed and Dangerous becomes a nice companion piece to Who’s Harry Crumb? as far as serious premises orchestrated in overly goofy ways go. Given stupid jokes with no bearing on the plot whatsoever like catching a shark with a fishing pole, he also receives some costumed gems—in drag and as an aviator. Placed in the middle of a ludicrous finale full of destruction, his physical comedy on bike, foot, and sitting shotgun with an over-the-top Steve Railsback in the aforementioned semi shows the film is firmly in his grasp. And despite ultimately being a derailed locomotive too all-over-the-place to be anything but a cult favorite, he and Levy make earn some honest laughs to make the trip worthwhile.
[1-3] Publicity still of John Candy, Eugene Levy in Armed and Dangerous