Review: Shakes the Clown (1991)

>> Saturday, November 20, 2010

USA/C-87m./Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait/Wr: Bobcat Goldthwait/Cast: Bobcat Goldthwait (Shakes the Clown), Julie Brown (Judy), Tom Kenny (Binky the Clown), Blake Clark (Stenchy the Clown), Adam Sandler (Dink the Clown), Kathy Griffin (Lucy), Paul Dooley (Owen Cheese), Robin Williams (Mime Jerry)

When Shakes the Clown was released in 1991, Betsy Sherman’s review in the Boston Globe famously referred to the film as “the Citizen Kane of Alcoholic Clown Movies.” While there are few other motion pictures vying for that title, in truth, Shakes the Clown isn’t the Citizen Kane of anything. “The Showgirls of Alcoholic Clown Movies” would be a more apt description. The picture is poorly constructed and amateurishly filmed, wasting comic possibilities at every opportunity. Still (warning: faint praise ahead), Shakes the Clown does generate sporadic laughs, and it is one of the more watchable bad movies.

The story is set in the jester Mecca of Palukaville, where birthday party clowns spend their down time boozing it up at the Twisted Balloon bar, beating up street mimes, and dreaming of hosting cartoon shows. The most talented of these dreamers is Shakes (Bobcat Goldthwait), a great children’s entertainer, but a bigger blackout drunk. When the unfunny, cokehead Binky the Clown (Tom Kenny) is awarded the coveted job as host of the local kiddie show, Shakes descends into a downward spiral of alcoholism and depression. Shakes’ buddies (Blake Clark and Adam Sandler) try to wean their friend off the bottle, but Shakes falls off the wagon and is fired in the process. Shortly thereafter, his boss (Paul Dooley) turns up dead, and Shakes has to take it on the lam, disguised as a mime. Can our hero pull it together and uncover the true culprit, or will he just get blotto once again?

Shakes the Clown was Bobcat Goldthwait’s first film as a writer/director, and it suffers from overreach and underwriting. The comedy has an interesting premise, and Goldthwait does a reasonably good job at bringing the world of Palukaville to life. Unfortunately, costumes and makeup do not a great comedy make. Goldthwait would have done better to scale back the design elements and spend more time punching up the script, because the laughs are thin and infrequent.

The cast (made up mainly of stand-up comics with little film experience) is fine; and Goldthwait, Brown, Clark, and Sandler often squeeze more humor out of their lines than the dialogue really warrants. However, funnyman Tom Kenny is wasted in the role of the villainous, unfunny Binky. By writing Binky as a clown devoid of a sense of humor, Goldthwait stripped the story of logic and the character of potential menace. It makes no sense that a television station would hire an unfunny clown to host their cartoon show. Binky would have posed more of a threat if he actually had strong comedy chops and if no one besides Shakes could see the darkness that lay beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, Binky is only one of the film’s many missed opportunities. Ripe comic situations (such as a country bar for rodeo clowns and a clown at an AA meeting) go absolutely nowhere. Still, enough booze and clown-related jokes hit the bullseye to warrant a mild recommendation for fans of soused cinema and bad movies in general.

Drinks Consumed--Beer (Braderbrau and others), bourbon, and scotch

Intoxicating Effects--Belching, vomiting, hangover, swearing, drunk driving, passing out, slurred speech, sneaking sips, public disturbance, destruction of property, jail time, and delirium tremens

Potent Quotables--DINK: The thing I don’t understand is why he just can’t drink normally like the rest of us. Ya know, he gets so out of control.
JUDY: Yeah.
STENCHY: Maybe it’s because he saw his father crushed to death by an elephant. A thing like that can scar you for life.
LUCY: He drinks so much to forget he’s a fucking alcoholic.

Video Availability--Shakes the Clown - Widescreen DVD (Sony)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--For better mix of laughs and vulgarity, check out Bad Santa (2003) instead.


Rowen November 23, 2010 at 7:47 AM  

Too bad this one disappoints. You wish someone would remake these things, but that doesn’t seem to happen. (Lots of people ruin an already good film by remaking it, but nobody ever remakes a bad one to improve it.)

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slowuroll3000 February 18, 2015 at 12:39 PM  

Shakes is great just the way it is.

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