The Man with Two Brains (1983) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for sexual humor, nudity and language
Running time: 93 min.
Cast: Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, David Warner, Paul Benedict, Richard Brestoff, James Cromwell, Sissy Spacek (voice)
Cameo: Merv Griffin, Jeffrey Combs
Director: Carl Reiner
Screenplay: George Gipe, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner
Review published February 23, 2011
One of Steve Martin's (Sgt. Pepper, The Jerk) funniest films, and one which he would co-write. His third collaboration with writer-director Carl Reiner (The One and Only, Fatal Instinct), The Man with Two Brains casts Martin as renowned brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, who has discovered a breakthrough technique called the "cranial screw-top method" (literally, screwing the top of one's skull on and off) which makes brain transplants nearly a snap. Michael's a widower who believes he'll never fall in love again after the loss of his beloved Rebecca. But after running over the stunning vixen gold-diggeing, husband-collector Dolores Benedict (Turner, Romancing the Stone), whose life he manages to save, his lusty loins, as well as her lies, get the better of him. She strings him along by dressing in slinky attire and withholding sex, but while they are on vacation in Austria, he begins to fall for a woman for her mind -- literally, her mind, as he meets Anne Uumellmahaye (voiced by Sissy Spacek, Affliction), who is a living brain in a glass jar whose conversations can only be heard by Michael. But now he's stuck in a loveless marriage and the woman of his dreams can't last in her current condition for long.
The Man with Two Brains is a kitchen-sink comedy, whereby nearly every zany comedic device is employed to evoke laughs. As is often the case with these sorts of films, some jokes work, some don't but the ones that work elicit such big laughs that they more than make up for whatever groaners lay sporadically in the mix. And above and beyond the take-nothing-seriously nature of the film, an improbable love story emerges that is not only unique, but it's also affecting.
Borrowing from the old sci-fi B-films of the 1940s and 1950s, including, oddly, Hitchcock's Rebecca, this spoof has fun with the conventionally unconventional mad scientist stories and infuses them with wit and panache. Full of wacky humor like condos that resemble centuries-old castles inside, wax lips on brain jars to simulate kisses, a test for drunk driving that goes way too far, licking one's palms to create suction to climb a building, and a hilarious cameo appearance by a late-night talk show host (spoiler in the cast credits above) as the dreaded "Elevator Killer" from which they mine their experimental brain specimens. While the plotline is easy to predict given a man who is in love with a brain and stuck with an evil woman with a hot body, but the rest of it pulls from so many random and inventive areas, the plot is more a conduit for more funny gags than critical to the enjoyment of the film.
Martin is on his A-game here, both as comedic persona and as a writer, giving his character just enough of a wacky personality to believe he would literally do and say anything, and yet still maintains an air of sympathy required to help him through the cuckolded lover scenes, as well as the love story, without flinching an eye or losing a beat. If you enjoy seeing Martin unhinged, he's rarely given a more manic, inspired performance in a film. Turner is also cast brilliantly, not only dripping with sex appeal and capitalizing on her femme fatale persona from her previous film, Body Heat, but also exhibiting a sharp comic timing that makes her the film's big surprise that she had never done a comedic film prior. She complements Martin well, and the character interaction also pushes Dr. Hfuhruhurr from sappy egotist into relatable hero.
The Man with Two Brains is a stupid movie, but smartly written, which makes it appealing to not only lowbrow comedy lovers, but also those who enjoy clever wit that's not afraid to employ screwball delivery or farcical sight gags. You can't expect a film with so many brains to be mindless, can you? Like most kitchen-sink comedies, your mileage will vary as to how funny you find the accumulation of the sight gags, puns and blatant silliness, but regardless of how much you laugh, you have to admire the all-out attempt by Martin and Reiner to entertain.
©2011 Vince Leo