*½/**** Image B+ Sound D+
starring Richard Pryor, John Candy, Lonette McKee, Stephen Collins
screenplay by Herschel Weingrod & Timothy Harris, based on the book by George Barr McCutcheon
directed by Walter Hill
by Bill Chambers The 1985 remake of Brewster's Millions is a failed high-concept fable not for its dearth of laughs (which is disappointing, what with Richard Pryor and John Candy headlining) or its overfamiliarity (it will remind you of not only Brewster's Millions past, but also every underdog comedy ever made), but because you wouldn't really want to wear the shoes of the eponymous Monty Brewster, a millionaire whose inheritance is shackled by so many caveats as to deny Monty--when we know him, anyway--a sense of wish-fulfillment.
Brewster (Pryor) is a baseball player for a minor league Chicago team summoned uptown by the firm representing his late great-grandfather (a grotesque Hume Cronyn), a Howard Hughes figure with an appropriately flaky last will and testament and Monty as the sole surviving heir to his immense fortune. But there's a catch--several catches, in fact. The first is that Monty has to get rid of $30 million in thirty days in order to receive $300 million he can keep. Though the initial sum cannot be entirely gambled or given away, if Monty retains any assets at the end of the month, he's disqualified. And the whole thing must remain a secret, lest the world make it any easier for Brewster to part with his riches on schedule.
As soon as Monty, forgoing the "wimp" clause that would put a cool million in his pocket to call off the challenge, steps outside the lawyers' office, he starts spending, showering friends (including Candy's Spike) with gifts and luring minimum-wagers away from their place of employment to work at abstract jobs of his spontaneous invention. It isn't long, however, before those around Monty grow concerned about the quick drain of his wealth, with Brewster's secret driving the biggest wedge between him and his lovely accountant, Angela (Lonette McKee), who's agitated by his squandering ways. Although she happens to be engaged to an evil attorney (Stephen Collins) masterminding Monty's ultimate downfall, we know how these things go--and the quiet courtship of Monty and Angela is probably the picture's greatest strength. Pryor's character knows he just has to wait it out for this woman, that patience will nurture something between them, and McKee manages to suggest an accountant first and a love interest second, bringing integrity to a stock role.
Too bad McKee blows Pryor off the screen. Delivering one of his hyperventilating yet detached performances the ferocious comic actor reserved for PG fare (he's a gasket that can never blow), Pryor appears to self-delete expletives in Brewster's Millions by making a litany of far more offensive Stepin Fetchit facial expressions. Late in the film, snapshots of these bug-eyed hysterics follow Pryor everywhere he goes in campaign posters that seem to taunt the very idea of a black man running for politics. And yet, a number of Eighties comedies offend for their glibness and succeed in the same breath--why doesn't Brewster's Millions? Well, for starters, macho action helmer Walter Hill was a poor choice to direct a film whose moneyed aesthetic cries out for Trading Places era John Landis. But moreover, it's probably asking too much of our capitalist culture to share in a fantasy of altruism: there's little fun in giving stuff away. Brewster's Millions is a whimsy strictly for financiers, that's why it's been remade so often (this 1985 incarnation marks the sixth screen adaptation of George Barr McCutcheon's novel, if one counts the 1926 silent Miss Brewster's Millions). This is the story of a man who pours wads of cash down the drain in the hope that ten times as much dough will come out the other end.
This is the story of a Hollywood producer.
Originally released on DVD by GoodTimes, Brewster's Millions finds itself returning to the format via license-holder Universal. (Street date: May 21st.) The image is no longer non-anamorphic; while I never viewed the GoodTimes' transfer, it's a safe bet that Universal's is a step up. The 1.85:1 transfer is clean (save for some dirt in the opening shot) with good detail and tasteful colouring. Sound is a different matter: As evidenced by the closing credits, Brewster's Millions played in select moviehouses in Dolby 4-track, but Universal has for reasons unknown replaced those audio stems with a terrible, compressed-sounding 2.0 mono mix. (The film exhibits fuller sound when it airs on TBS.) Abbreviated production notes, cast and filmmaker biographies/filmographies, and Brewster's Millions' theatrical trailer round out the disc. Originally published: May 4, 2002.