Off the coast of Blackpool two fishing trawlers sail close to each other, and it's time to make the deal. On the British boat, Jack Parker (Lee Evans), who can speak French because of his mother, prepares to enter the dinghy that will take him to the foreign boat, the money in a pack on his back, as his three cohorts make sure he knows to do exactly as they say. Then he is in the dinghy, passing the other messenger, and on the French boat, waiting for the signal. The Brits take the wax eggs that have been agreed upon from the Frenchman, but across the way, there is a problem - the cash is fake...
If you're wondering what that has to do with the rest of the film, the opening sequence ending as it does with Jack stranded in the water screaming "I'm gonna die!", then you're not alone, as there were a few unanswered questions remaining by the end. This was evidence of a lot of post production troubles, as it was rumoured plenty had to be cut and refashioned into something resembling a coherent plot, with Oliver Reed, for one, seeing most of his role jettisoned, so we are never really sure what he wanted with those wax eggs other than they contained some kind of secret to eternal life.
But wait, wasn't this supposed to be a comedy? Funny Bones was the follow up to director and writer Peter Chelsom's hit Hear My Song, a film that left everyone laughing and in a jolly mood, but with this the few who did see it were either left totally baffled or responded to its intricacies and ambition - those in the latter camp were fewer and farther between. Yet even if at times it came across as if not even Chelsom had a grasp on what he was trying to achieve, it was a fascinating try at examining the nature of comedy at a microscopic level. Our actual main character is Tommy Fawkes (Oliver Platt) and when we meet him he is dying on his arse in a Las Vegas nightclub, with this famous father George (Jerry Lewis) watching.
Everyone had high hopes for Tommy, seeing as his dad was one of the biggest comedians of all time (Lewis' casting is especially pointed), but it seems as though he just isn't funny - he doesn't have the funny bones his parent had, but that Jack does. So why isn't Jack out there performing every night and wowing the crowds? We see back in Blackpool that he has the talent in abundance (again, it was very canny to cast Evans in what his first big screen role), but what we don't know is that he took his comedy a little too seriously. This film goes to some very dark places, almost to sabotage the humour that bubbles up every so often from the strangeness and gloom, as if to question why anyone should laugh at anything and point out that we are doing so to stave off the true bleakness of existence, which is in evidence here.
You know the old saying, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard"? That appears to have been the maxim when considering the themes of Funny Bones, which only gets weirder once Tommy flies to Blackpool hoping to find an act he can use that will prove his salvation, except he keeps saying that he only has a short time to live, although how sincere he is about that is one of those conundrums left hanging by the close of the story. Of course, the problem is that if you try to examine a joke then it falls apart and won't make you so much as chuckle, never mind roar, but Chelsom got around that by going so far into the puzzle of what makes us laugh that he uncovers nothing but more mysteries. With a one of a kind cast that includes Leslie Caron as Jack's mother to popular seventies comedian Freddie Davies, otherwise known as Parrot Face to those who used to catch him on TV, the singular quality of Funny Bones will not appeal to many, but the fact that it was willing to go as far as it did made it one of the most intriguing films of its decade. Music by John Altman.