Brewster's Millions (1985) / Comedy
MPAA rated PG for language
Running time: 97 min.
Cast: Richard Pryor, John Candy, Lonette McKee, Stephen Collins, Jerry Orbach, Pat Hingle, Hume Cronyn, Joe Grifasi, Peter Jason
Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Herschel Weingrod, Timothy Harris (based on the novel by George Barr McCutcheon)
Richard Pryor (Superman III, Live on Sunset Strip) stars as longtime minor league pitcher Montgomery Brewster still waiting for his next big call-up to the Bigs that seems to be so elusive. He and his battery mate, catcher Spike Nolan (Candy, Splash), find themselves in jail after their latest shenanigans, only to be bailed out by a man under the employ of one of Brewster's benefactors. Previously unbeknownst to Brewster, he has a deceased, elderly, white, and very wealthy uncle named Rupert (Cronyn, Batteries Not Included), of whom it is believed that Montgomery is the sole heir. Crazy and sadistic Rupert doesn't want his inheritance to go to this stranger, so he concocts a stipulation: that Brewster spend every penny of a $30 million in 30 days without any assets to show for it, and he will get $300 million in return. If he fails, he gets nothing. Or, he can take $1 million now just to walk away.
Needless to say, if he doesn't make a go for it, we don't have a movie. Brewster immediately sets to hiring his closest friends and confidantes to be his assistants for the month at generous salaries, while setting about to donate money to doing such things as purchasing his minor league club and fix up the stadium and aging uniforms. He even sets up an exhibition game between his team and the vaunted New York Yankees. Brewster has no problems spending the money, but his friends and associates want to save and invest it, but he can't tell them about the scheme lest he forfeit the money. And the lawyers seem to be working against him, setting up a mole to try to derail Brewster from success.
The seventh filmed telling of this screwball comedy, originally from the 1902 novel by George Barr McCutcheon, Brewster's Millions is a lighthearted Richard Pryor vehicle that benefits from his likeable and vulnerable personality. Pryor is entertaining even if the script doesn't offer much amusement of its own to generate solid or memorable laughs. Basically, even though it isn't a vehicle crafted with his comedic personality in mind, he shoulders the weight of the comedy and almost succeeds due mostly to his unassuming good-guy personality. His perpetual sense of self-conscious nervousness alone is enough to make you be on his side.
Veteran action director Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Crossroads) does a decent job with the tone, but it's the story that perpetually gets in the way. The logistics of the contest are explained in a very murky way, and seem to make little sense other than to contrive many cute scenes of Richard Pryor being a decent person to those who love him. There appeared a possibility that this version of the story might have a rich thematic undertone to bolster it up to the level of acute political satire when Brewster decides to join a heated race for Mayor of New York whereby he instructs the public to vote for "None of the Above", but whatever political bite the story angle may have been meant to have from inception had been reduced to a mere plot device at the time of final editing.
What the film ultimately lacks is the 'screwball' part of the comedy that it always had been from inception, where the inadequacies of the premise are ignored due to fast timing and my keeping the audience laughing too much to sit and question a ridiculous premise. Unfortunately, there is too much time spent explaining it poorly, and what we do see seems to contradict what we've learned. For instance, Brewster is told he cannot destroy something of great value or he forfeits the prize, but he is shown purchasing one of the world's most expensive stamps and using it to send a postcard. He is also told he can only spend about 5% of the money gambling, and yet he gambles frequently without much of a care on just how much money he is spending at any given time.
What it remains is cute, pleasant, and should work for Pryor fans, but definitely needed a wittier script and more work on the way the story is told in order to work. It stands as mostly lackadaisical in its approach, biding time and hoping the colorful and talented character actors can pull the tale together in a funny way, and too much time is spent in watching in-game baseball action for reasons that don't make a good deal of sense from the standpoint of the overall story..
©2012 Vince Leo