Monday, April 11, 2005

Review: So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

One of the more interesting trivia tidbits for the movie Shrek was how, after the principal animation was finished, Mike Myers requested to redo all of his lines in a Scottish accent. This change required months of additional work and over a million dollars in expenses, but the result was the creation of one of the most memorable animated characters in recent memory. Myers' decision, though it must have had the Dreamworks honchos breaking out in hives at the time, was a shrewd one. He knew where his strengths were from experience.

So I Married an Axe Murderer is the story of Charlie Mackenzie (Mike Myers), who works as a...well, we actually never find out his job, so nevermind. Our only real focus is on his love life, which is constantly starting and stopping due to his fear of commitment. Along comes Harriet Michaels (Nancy Travis), a beautiful butcher who enters his life and his heart. He begins to think she is the one until he sees some similarity between her and a serial husband murderer he's read about. His best friend Tony (Anthony LaPaglia) thinks he's making excuses like he always does, but he may just be deadly right this time.

Charlie's parents May (Brenda Fricker) and Stuart (Myers, again) also appear in the movie. Though only May has any bearing on the plot, it's Stuart that audiences center on. For any fan of Saturday Night Live, Stuart is immediately recognizable as another version of sketch character Angus, the cranky owner of a store called "All Things Scottish". For a lot of us, this is where we first got to know Myers' "Cranky Scot" character, which he would use variances of as the title character in the Shrek films and Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers films.

It's in this film, though, that he possibly has the most fun with it. Stuart festoons his house with pictures of Scottish celebrities and plays the Bay City Rollers to the annoyance of his neighbors. He then sits in his chair and proceeds to speak in astounded terms of how large the head of his other son, Willie, is. "That boy's head is like Sputnik," he says to Tony at one point. "Spherical but quite pointy at parts." He's a classic cranky old man with a Scottish twist, and he's hilarious.

Why have I spent two paragraphs talking about a minor supporting character before discussing the main character? Because, quite frankly, Charlie is boring. Myers' constant mugging for the camera and laughing at his own jokes tends to get old real quick, whereas Stuart is completely oblivious to anything funny that he says or does, making him funnier for it. I suppose you could call the phenomenon the "Austin Powers/Dr. Evil Ratio", as I had the same reaction to those two characters as well. A true indicator of what works is LaPaglia himself. In the first scene at the local coffehouse, he laughs amiably at Charlie's overreaction to his coffee mug size. Later on, when Stuart goes on about the size of his son's head, LaPaglia looks genuinely in hysterics.

In terms of the romance, I can't say I was totally enraptured with Travis and Myers. There really isn't much chemistry between them, which is a shame since I've been hoping to see some quality romantic comedy with the very talented Travis. Oddly enough, Stuart and May's relationship actually affected me more. As absurd as Stuart acts at times, he does share a touching moment with May during their 50th anniversary party. As long as you don't think about how Fricker is old enough to be Myers' mother when they share a kiss, It's a nice scene.

One other aspect I liked about the film was a subplot involving LaPaglia's cop and his police chief, improbably played by Alan Arkin. Their scenes play with cop movie conventions as he years to be the classic rebel tough cop and pleads with Arkin to be tougher on him in turn. The sweet-natured Arkin later tries it, only to afterwards insecurely ask him if he was too harsh. Like Amelie did with Paris, this comedy portrays San Francisco as clean, virtually crime free and incredibly safe. I had no problem with this convention, but it's better we don't let Michael Douglas or Karl Malden know about it.

The film has built a cult following and its easy to see why. The movie is very sweethearted in its intentions and goals. This was also the first film that gave Myers a chance to break out of his SNL persona after the success of Wayne's World. Ironically, it is a certain SNL character throwback that ends up earning most of the audience's interest.

Seven out of Ten

(This can also be viewed at Blogcritics)

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