Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
Review by Sombrero Grande

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a gimmick flick that never manages to rise above its gimmick. Painstakingly filmed to mimic the style of 1940s-‘50s film noir, leading man Steve Martin is made to look as though he’s interacting with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Fred MacMurray, Cary Grant, James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Vincent Price and many other famous faces from that era and genre though editing footage from their old films into this one. The effect can be seamless at times, but manages to achieve nothing.

I suppose if you’re someone who’s totally memorized all the old film noir movies spliced into Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid you could foreseeably get a kick out of seeing the moments and performances you know so well pop up unexpectedly. That seems to me a pretty small and select group of people, of whom I am not one. Call me crazy but I think that if you’re going to make a gimmick movie you should at least try to give the film a chance to stand on its own after the novelty wears off. Hey, Toy Story had a gimmick too, being the first ever feature-length all-CGI animated film, and that was enough to get people into theaters to see it, but it was a fun story with great characters and clever writing that propelled it into people’s hearts. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid never tries to do anything other than spin a thinly woven story that incorporates as many old clips as possible. Comedians Martin and Carl Reiner can’t even muster up much that’s funny to fill that space between clips either. There’re a few small chuckles with jokes involving dog poop and pajamas (separately) but really there aren’t any more than you’d find in your average sitcom “clip show” episode.

I groused about Martin’s performance in Looney Tunes Back In Action, and here he’s not all that much better. Martin admittedly didn’t study film noir performances to prepare for his role as a stereotypical private eye and it shows. The result is that despite all the obvious hard work and attention to detail that went into recreating the look of authentic film noir, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid never manages to totally pull off the same feel except when Martin’s nowhere on screen.

I checked this movie out knowing that it came from some of the same people who worked on Martin’s quite funny The Jerk, but now I feel like a jerk for ever renting Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.


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