A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

(On DVD, August 2017) Is A Fish Called Wanda overhyped, or was I just in the wrong mood for it? No matter the reason, I’m tempted to label this acknowledged classic as mildly amusing and leave it at that. The fault isn’t with the actors: John Cleese is in fine full persona as a stiff upper-lip barrister, seduced by a curiously sexualized Jamie Lee Curtis as part of a larger robbery plot. Various quirky characters populate the edges of the film, none more forcefully than Kevin Kline as a grossly caricatured American villain. The script is densely plotted for a comedy, and it deftly mixes physical comedy with fine repartee (the apology moment is a quote for the ages). The direction is sometimes more dynamic than expected, and that may be a clue to A Fish Called Wanda’s more humdrum reception today: What may have been striking back in 1988 is the norm today. I may have been partially inoculated to the film’s charm by having watched its “equal” Fierce Creatures a few months ago—the two films share the same sensibilities, and the first one seen may end up feeling like the better of the two. Still, it’s not as if I disliked A Fish Called Wanda: I merely found it good but underwhelming, and there are worse critical assessments out there.

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