|Man with Two Brains, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 30 March 1999|
‘The Man With Two Brains’ probably played funnier in its original 1983 release, when female lead Kathleen Turner’s vamp turn in ‘Body Heat’ was still fresh in the public consciousness. The plot is a takeoff on all those old science-fiction/horror movies about mad scientists who keep disembodied brains alive in their basements, just waiting for the right body to come along and play unwilling host.
Steve Martin stars as the arrogant Dr. Michael Hfuhhruhurr, who has just invented screw-top, zip-lock brain surgery. His life changes when he crosses paths with the gorgeous, scheming Delores (Turner), who soon entices him into matrimony. Delores takes delight in sexually tormenting her new husband, putting off their consummation for months. Not too surprisingly, Michael feels unloved. Then he visits the laboratory of a colleague, Dr. Necessiter (a droll, dry David Warner), who is doing some strange experiments of his own. Michael discovers that he can communicate telepathically with the disembodied brain of murder victim Ann Uuhmemelmahaye (the uncredited voice of Sissy Spacek). Soon Michael is, for the first time in his life, in love with a mind instead of a body, but poor Ann really needs a better corporeal form than her jar. Hmm, what to do?
Director Carl Reiner, who co-wrote the script with Martin and George Gipe, has come up with a film that looks just a little like a ‘50s Hammer horror flick and feels just a bit like an episode of ‘Get Smart.’ A fair number of the broad jokes come off well. Martin’s initially insufferable character becomes startlingly enjoyable once he’s smitten with his wrinkled, pink paramour. Often, parodies of romantic passion target the whole notion of love, depicting crass insensitivity and lustful manipulation where consideration is supposed to exist. Instead, the makers of ‘Brain’ go for incongruity. Michael is transformed by love into a paragon of tender thoughtfulness, and the object of his affections is worthy in most respects, but the contortions he must go through to conduct the affair are ridiculous, made even funnier by a perverse logic.
Technically, ‘The Man With Two Brains’ has few frills and the DVD has none at all (unless you count basics like chapter search and closed-captioning for the deaf). The movie’s production design is intentionally bright, cheesy and garish -- there’s a running gag about the cheap construction of Necessiter’s house -- with few flourishes either aural or visual. Chapter 4 contains some ostentatiously schlocky special effects, though there is a nifty bit in Chapter 8, where Martin’s character momentarily literally climbs a wall. The Day-Glo brains in Chapter 11 will incite a weird nostalgia for those old enough to remember black lights.
Some sequences in ‘The Man With Two Brains’ go on too long and others fall flat altogether, but the film has enough sturdy jokes and genuine deadpan weirdness -- as well as enthusiastic and capable performances -- to be an agreeable diversion.