BIG BUSINESS (1988) / MY FATHER THE HERO (1994). For approximately a 10-year span from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, Disney's live-action arms produced an astonishing number of films, so many that the impression was given that the cash flow was allowing even the studio errand boys to light their cigars with one-dollar bills. Some of these films prospered (Three Men and a Baby), most flopped (V.I. Warshowski), and a few barely saw the light of day (Patrick Swayze's Father Hood, anyone?). Disney has now licensed many of these films to Mill Creek Entertainment, which has just released about a dozen of them on Blu-ray. The offerings include Dolly Parton's Straight Talk and Tom Selleck's An Innocent Man, but for my money, the best of the bunch are Big Business and My Father the Hero.
The underrated farce Big Business is catnip to anyone who's a sucker for mistaken-identity plots (like, uh, me), as two sets of twins — one urban, one rural — are mismatched at birth, leading to complications when all four females end up in New York City decades later. Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin are terrific as they each tackle two distinct parts, while director Jim Abrahams (who had previously worked with Midler on their hit Ruthless People) adopts the right pace to complement the clever screenplay.
Whereas Big Business finds its humor coming from all corners (let's not forget Fred Ward, hilarious in a supporting role), My Father the Hero is basically a one-man show, with Gerard Depardieu generating ample amounts of goodwill toward a project that would be hopelessly lackluster without his towering presence. In this remake of the 1991 French film Mon pere, ce heros, Depardieu reprises his role as a dad who hopes to bond with his teenage daughter (15-year-old Katherine Heigl) during a Caribbean vacation. But the girl is more interested in other things — cute boys, to be exact — and to make herself seem older and more sophisticated, she tells everyone that her father is actually her lover, a lie that leads to all manner of awkward developments. The filmmakers find just the right approach to turn what on paper sounds like a sordid plotline into a breezy, likable comedy, and the scene in which Depardieu's oblivious dad cheerfully sings "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" would be a classic had it appeared in a higher-profile title.
There are no extras on the Blu-rays.
Big Business: ***
My Father the Hero: **1/2
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XX (2011). The good news for Joel Hodgson fans is that all four episodes in this twentieth edition, billed as a "Joel-bilee," are hosted by Joel, with nary a Mike Nelson show in sight. The bad news is that this is probably the weakest of the Shout! Factory-released sets, with two of the titles falling below expectations.
An episode from the shaky first season, Project Moonbase (movie made in 1953; featured on MST3K in 1990) centers on a black-and-white sci-fi cheapie in which a female astronaut (Donna Martell) and her sexist colleagues have to contend with a Russian spy hoping to gum things up for the U.S. space program. Any episode that riffs off a classic line from Apocalypse Now can't be all bad, but this is by far the weakest show in the set.
Much better, but still not up to the usual sky-high MST standards, is The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (movie made in 1953; featured on MST3K in 1993), a Russian import in which the title hero attempts to save his impoverished city by finding the Bluebird of Happiness. The wraparound segments are amusing (love the Rat Pack Chess Set in the "invention exchange"), and the gang gets off pop culture references both famous (The Guns of Navarone) and obscure (O.C. and Stiggs). But the tediousness of the film itself finds Joel and the 'Bots sometimes straining for material.
The final two episodes, however, make this worth the purchase prize. Master Ninja I (movie made in 1984; featured on MST3K in 1992) and Master Ninja II (ditto) are actually comprised of two episodes apiece from the 13-episode TV series The Master, which centered on an American martial arts specialist (Lee Van Cleef) and his cocky young sidekick (Timothy Van Patten). Concocted to quickly cash in on the Ninja rage enveloping the country during the early 1980s, the show is absolute junk, which makes these "movies" perfect fodder for our heroes. The wisecracks come fast and furious, and no one — especially the hapless Timothy Van Patten — is safe. Incidentally, Demi Moore and Claude Akins co-star in Master Ninja I, while David McCallum and one-shot 007 George Lazenby appear in Master Ninja II.
DVD extras include an introduction by cast member Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Clayton Forrester as well as the voice of Crow); a discussion between the original voice of Tom Servo, the annoying Elvis Weinstein, and his superior replacement, Kevin Murphy; the original wrap segments for the Mystery Science Theater Hour; an interview with Master Ninja I cast member Bill McKinney; and the theatrical trailer for Project Moonbase.
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