Reviews

Fierce Creatures

4

This freaky project, once known as Death Fish 2, is neither a sequel nor a prequel to A Fish Called Wanda but a sort of "equal". That is, the principal actors play roughly the same sorts of characters, but with different identities, and in a different setting. It sounds like a new twist on the usual sequels thing - - after all, what were the Carry On films but exactly the same idea repeated ad nauseum? - - but it isn't. As a comedy, this works on a much higher level, despite the fact that a lot of it hinges on the idea that a series of misunderstandings convince Kline and Curtis that Cleese's sexually repressed Englishman is actually a rampant, fetishistic stud.

Although Cleese is writer and producer, this is actually Kline's film. He steals it by being excellent as the richer-than-Croesus, New-Zealand-born tycoon - - hiring and firing without any thought for people, continually breaking wind at both ends - - and by being even better as his own son, a whinging, cringing oik who veers between arrogance and manic despair. Not without reason, Vince blames his father for spoiling his childhood. "How could I have done?" asks McCain Snr. "I wasn't even there."

Although the characters are different, the relationships remain true to the original Wanda set-up: Kline's supremely vulgar American is in continual conflict with Cleese's tight-ass Englishman; Curtis is the straight woman caught in the middle (with Kline unable to fathom why she should prefer the Limey to him); and Michael Palin is the peripheral oddball character. Actually, as insect keeper "Bugsy Malone" he's criminally under-used, spending most of his time as part of the Greek chorus of zoo keepers, which miniature hall-of-fame includes Ronnie Corbett, Robert Lindsay, ex-Bond girl Carey Lowell (Licence to Kill), Cleese's daughter Cynthia and - - yes! - - the god-like Derek Griffiths (who is, incidentally, currently engaged in adapting Dracula into a rock opera. Who else would have the bottle?)

Like many before it (including Wanda itself, Fierce Creatures has already acquired a degree of notoriety. This has been thanks to all sorts of post-production problems, chiefly the extensive rewrites and reshoots that were undertaken following a terrible reaction from US test audiences. The good news is that none of this fevered tinkering is evident in the finished movie - - what's there on screen works. It'd be interesting to see what they originally came up with and abandoned - and maybe one day we will - but, as it stands now, the movie is fine.

Actually, it's much more than fine. Fierce Creatures is very funny indeed, being well-written, well-directed, well-acted and well-produced. It probably won't be as big as Wanda - - a freak hit that's still the second most successful British film of all time - but few people ever expected it to be. What it can claim to be is streets, miles, light years and millennia ahead of most other comedies (British, American, or otherwise), and a home-grown film with genuine international appeal.

Monty Python fans will be in their element here, too. Palin and Terry Jones are credited with the original idea of "The Fierce Animal Policy", an old TV pilot script that was never used, and several sequences in the movie are pure parrot sketch, not least the bit where Robert Lindsay tries to convince the powers-that-be that his assorted small mammals are, in fact, vicious, marauding carnivores. Cleese: ""Are you sure that meerkats are known as the piranhas of the desert?""

Verdict:

A classy, often hilarious trans-Atlantic comedy, with spot-on performances from the principals and the supporting actors. It's as though all those problematic rewrites and reshoots never happened. If you don't laugh, you're probably a dead lemur.

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