REVIEW: Shakes the Clown [1991]

“Saddle up Chuck!”

Quite the interesting film from the warped mind of Bobcat Goldthwait. Shakes the Clown is his debut as a writer/director and tells the story about an alcoholic clown who, while passed out drunk, is framed for the murder of his boss and mentor. From the catch phrase “Loved by children. Desired by woman. Adored by bartenders everywhere” I was expecting something a little more perverse and out there. Instead, we are given a pretty run of the mill, mediocre comedy where the bumbling hero and misfit friends must uncover the evil villain, who until then is seen as the good guy. The loved by children part is a nice touch because no matter how mean or abusive he is to the adults, he is a fantastic clown (what agility on this guy). As for the desired by woman, he has a one night stand and a girlfriend—he is just being tormented by the number of ladies all over him—as for the bartenders, he usually is outside while the friends stick to the bar. Shakes is just too good of a guy to really make the role believable as being a deadbeat.

The biggest surprise here is the amount of supporting players that have gone on to accomplish things in the industry. An almost unrecognizable Kathy Griffin, (pre-surgery indeed); the usual solid performance from character actor Blake Clark; newcomer Adam Sandler, a tad bit raw, delivering lines like he is at a stand-up event, the guy has come far; and Robin Williams, who steals his scene and is probably the funniest part of the entire film. Besides these, however, we get a lot of amateurish work. I don’t want to be mean, but I could not stand Julie Brown. She has the looks and the affectionate glances to be the by-her-man girlfriend, but her speech pattern is horrid. Not being able to pronounce the letter “r,” she sounds like me when I was 5 before taking speech therapy. How there is not a feature length gag reel is beyond me, because these guys could not have kept straight faces opposite her.

A couple more roles gave me mixed feelings. Tom Kenny, as the villainous Binky, has quite the extensive filmography…as a voiceover pro. I can see why he would be so successful, as he is very over the top here, great for cartoons, not so much when you have to see his broad facial expressions that go along with the words. He reminded me a bit of David Paymer, and I couldn’t stop thinking how much better he would have done at the job. Paymer just has the sad sack, stick a knife in your back role down pat. The other role is the cop with high blood pressure. His delivery was awkward and a bit forced. Funny as it was, especially opposite his amused by the littlest things partner, he did stick out.

I must give credit to Bobcat for attempting to do something new in the genre. Although it is an overused plot, he tries to spice things up by setting it in the world of clowns; they overrun the town. I kept waiting to see if a normal person would arrive to entertain them. Moments do work throughout, like the fights with mimes, the rodeo clown clique, and the bickering at the bar, but there is just too much stuff that fails; it’s so broad that it elicited more yawns than chuckles. I ended up having to play a game with myself to stay with it by finding all the hidden things I could. My favorites were the cop putting a gun two inches from a convict’s face in the background while Bobcat is released from jail and the production company responsible for the clown television show, (watch the credits on the tv for it).

Shakes the Clown 3/10 | ★


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