Steve Martin is the proprietor of an LA suicide hotline, that is being run in an apartment building run by Garry Shandling who hands Martin an eviction notice. On Christmas Eve. Martin’s seemingly only staff are sweet-natured Rita Wilson (who gets too involved with callers, and also has the hots for Martin), and Madeline Kahn as the rather cranky Mrs. Mushnik (Who doesn’t remotely convince as someone who works in this industry). Other people who drop by the apartment this evening include Juliette Lewis as Wilson’s pregnant sister whose douchebag baby daddy Anthony LaPaglia is dressed as Santa, Liev Schreiber as a depressed drag queen (his theatrical film debut!), Adam Sandler as Adam Sandler doing an Adam Sandler routine in a film not about Adam Sandler, Joely Fisher as Martin’s ex, and Robert Klein as a dog-loving neighbour. Anyway, someone dies, and oh, and there’s apparently a serial killer stalking the city. Could one of our characters be The Seaside Strangler?
OK, so it’s not quite as abysmal as other 90s all-star comedic misfires like “Nothing But Trouble” or “North”, but this 1994 effort from director Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”, “This is My Life”) and her co-writer/sister Delia Ephron (“This is My Life”) is a complete and total failure from a bunch of people who should’ve known (and given us) much, much better, though I’ll give respected cinematographer Sven Nykvist (“Cries and Whispers”, “Chaplin”, “Sleepless in Seattle”) a pass, he at least does his job. It’s also a shithouse Christmas film to boot, I might add. I like some Christmas songs and carols, but the George Fenton (“Gandhi”, “The Fisher King”, “Groundhog Day”) score and soundtrack here are obnoxious and insistent (and not just because The Chipmunks feature at one point).
The fact that it’s based on a French film explains a whole lot about this film’s failure to work. Sure, it worked with “Three Men and a Baby” and “Three Fugitives”, but remaking a French farce can be quite hazardous, as this film proves tenfold. Nora Ephron, French farce and suicide prove a fatal mix this time around.
Everyone’s favourite insincere prick Garry Shandling is perfect casting as a Grinchy landlord, but he leaves the film almost instantaneously, leaving us with a baby-voiced pre-“Happy Gilmore” Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber in drag and suicidal (It’s not his fault, and his career amazingly recovered anyway), Anthony LaPaglia as an unlikeable ne’er do well Santa (and shite artist), an ironically despondent-looking Steve Martin (aside from “Bowfinger”, his career didn’t recover), a shrill Madeline Kahn (Talented lady when she’s not simply doing that shrill voice thing), and a typically whiny Juliette Lewis (Whose exact talent I’m still yet to discern). Oh, and Rob Reiner as a supposedly comical vet. Mustn’t forget that valuable contribution. Rita Wilson is absolutely lovely, and the Ephron’s have obviously taken more interest in writing her character, with Martin in particular getting nothing interesting to do or say here (Make of that what you will), and everyone else being some kind of one-dimensional (and unlikeable) kook.
The whole thing is depressing, overdone, and unfunny, but mostly it’s just irritating, especially when Sandler is given free rein to do his baby-voiced shtick and “SNL” characters in the least organic way possible. He stops the film (already stillborn) dead with his every riff. I’m sure some people find Sandler’s baby-voiced, ukulele-playing shtick funny, but it’s not. At all. I spent the whole film wanting to punch him, which is kind of ironic given the suppressed rage his man-child characters tend to have. When he and Kahn share a scene together? Excruciating stuff. Poor Jon Stewart and Parker Posey barely have roles at all, though Posey was just starting to build a resumé and Stewart wasn’t a name back in 94, either. You’d think a comedy about suicidal and depressed people would fit uber deadpan comedian Steven Wright perfectly, and it might’ve if Ephron remembered she actually cast him in the film.
I’d be shocked if this film has any fans who aren’t currently under psychiatric care. Sure, someone out there will probably defend “Toys”, and we all know even Sandler’s worst films have their supporters, but this is truly disappointing, and frankly just off-putting. A major miscalculation, this sad sack farce is miserable.