The Good: I'm stretching here, so I'll say the cast
The Bad: Not funny, Acting is terrible, Just about everything
The Basics: Despite generally talented cast members, 1941 is terribly unfunny and it demeans the career of Steven Spielberg to consider he ever directed it.
Sometimes, there comes a movie that is so terrible that all one wishes to do is erase it from their memory. Wrong Turn, which is my all-time most hated movie is almost completely forgotten by me. I know I don't like Wrong Turn (reviewed here!), but I don't even remember why. I'd have to go read my review and I know enough about how much I hated that movie to know I shouldn't do that. Similarly, every now and then I hear a song from Bush's album Sixteen Stone (reviewed here!) and I develop a bit of a tick. Steven Spielberg, apparently tuckered out from making classic films like Jaws (reviewed here!) and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, squeezed out 1941 before making Raiders Of The Lost Ark (reviewed here!). Checking out the IMDB, none of the titles under his directing credit since then jump out as comedies. Perhaps he learned his lesson. I learned my lesson and I'm filing this movie in the Outbox of my brain with other movies I loathed.
1941, appropriately enough, happens in 1941. Approximately one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine ends up lost near Hollywood, fueling the belief that the Japanese are about to attack California. Sgt. Frank Tree prepares for the attack by trying to get the military organized. The crazy and frenetic Captain Wild Bill Kelso is determined to keep the skies clear of Japanese and generally California goes into hysteria as relations between the Germans and the Japanese on the submarine fall apart.
1941 is a comedy with what could have been a clever concept. Instead, it's just plain dumb. Most of the humor is slapstick, which is the lowest form of comedy. None of it is particularly clever. Things crash, houses get run into by tanks, it's pretty basic stupidity humor. There is nothing clever in the execution of 1941.
The idea, though, is not bad. The idea of California going into hysteria following the attack on Pear Harbor is a decent enough idea. I'm not sure how well it works as a comedic idea, but it certainly does not work in this comic rendition of it. Instead, we are subjected to slapstick gags, banal character and obvious attempts for cheap laughs.
A perfect example of this is embodied by Captain Kelso. Wild Bill Kelso is played by John Belushi and the role runs like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch. Belushi as Kelso falls down, bugs out his eyes, chomps on cigars in a parody of masculinity of the time and blusters his way through even the least complicated of lines. The thing is, we've seen Belushi act like this. It's familiar. It's not Kelso, it's Belushi and that's poor use of the actor or poor acting.
Similarly, Dan Aykroyd, who plays Tree, is familiar for his overly serious delivery, much like how he played the anchor on the Saturday Night Live news. John Candy is in the movie far too briefly and if you blink, you miss Christopher Lee. In short, any talent that could have made the movie funny or allow it to possess a certain quality is lost in either preconceived notions of how the actors ought to be used or drown in a terrible script.
And Steven Spielberg phones this one in. There is nothing spectacular in the direction. In fact, there is nothing even visually interesting in 1941. And the problem is, where some truly lame movies do not take themselves seriously, like camp classic The Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, 1941 does take itself seriously. So there are no gaffs with production design or production elements. Things like the house being barreled into with a tank happen in a meticulously constructed way that a serious director would.
Still, the net effect is garbage. 1941 is not funny. It is not entertaining and I shudder to think that there now exists an even longer Director's Cut. Part of the shudder is astonishment that Steven Spielberg would admit he remembered making this movie. I know I shall do my best to forget it.
For other works with Tim Matheson, be sure to check out my reviews of:
No Strings Attached
The West Wing
The Story Of Us
Check out all the movies that were better than this one and read reviews by visiting my Movie Review Index Page where films are organized best to worst!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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