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  Folks! The Hilarity Of Senility
Year: 1992
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Stars: Tom Selleck, Don Ameche, Anne Jackson, Christine Ebersole, Wendy Crewson, Michael Murphy, Robert Pastorelli, Kevin Chevalia, Maggie Murphy, Joseph Miller, T.J. Parish, J. Patrick McCormack, Peter Burns, Jon Favreau, Jackye Roberts, Kevin Barry Howe
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jon Aldrich (Tom Selleck) is a successful yuppie stockbroker who is about to see his life fall down around his ears. Time was all he had to worry about was letting the dog go out to do its business in the middle of the night and when he would find the time between work and being a loving father to enjoy some time alone with his wife Audrey (Wendy Crewson), but it just took one phone call for everything to go horribly wrong. The call was from a hospital in Florida to tell him his mother (Anne Jackson) was staying for an operation, so could he get over there straight away? Jon drops what he's doing and catches the next flight out of town, whereupon he finds out it's not really his mother he should be worrying about as his father (Don Ameche) is the one with the real problems...

The screenwriter of this Silvio Berlusconi production (yes, that Silvio) was Robert Klane, who had tried the same trick of playing Alzheimer's disease for laughs in his ultra-black comedy Where's Poppa?, both in his novel and in his later script. In that case, mainly because you could hardly believe Klane was going to the places he did in such a bleak fashion that you had to laugh, almost grudgingly, but that had a heavy dose of nineteen-seventies grit to it, and when he attempted to remake it with a male afflicted rather than a female, somehow the presence of director Ted Kotcheff, coming off the success of Weekend at Bernie's, rendered it both goofy and frankly moronic. At the time nobody was impressed, regarding it as another nail in the coffin of Selleck's movie career.

It didn't help that the week before this was due to be released, a genuine Alzheimer's sufferer killed five people when she crashed her car in a way that had unfortunate echoes of the big setpiece, emphasised in the widely-seen trailer, where Ameche drives like a madman, and to make matters worse later on causes a huge pile up of vehicles while trying to kill himself and his wife. Now, you can see why it would take a very careful balance to get the humour out of this, yet everyone involved apparently were under the impression they were making something akin to a Disney Touchstone copy, and therefore it was all fun and games instead of mining weary amusement out of the crushing depression of watching a parent falter and finally succumb to a serious condition.

Perhaps reasoning that Ameche's Harry had enough indignities visited on him by his senility, his character breezes through the film while Selleck, like George Segal before him, is the one who suffers. This is excused by the fact Jon is a yuppie, therefore the prompt to laugh is because of his triumphs in his professional and personal life, so if you believe people for whom things have actually worked out fine for a change deserve to be brought down a peg or two then you will have no issues with enjoying the misery that rains down on him like so much piss from Klane and Kotcheff. This takes the form of violent slapstick, as after a while it seems not one scene is going to pass without Jon receiving some injury or another, from a dog bite in the early stages to more damage later on.

It's not simply because of what Harry gets up to either, though that's no small part, leaving Selleck wincing and limping his way around the movie, nearly losing an eye, actually losing a testicle, and leaving anyone with an ounce of sympathy for the plight of others, even if they are rich, cringing. To make matters worse, after Jon's parents move in with him once Harry burns their Florida home down (again, this is supposed to be funny), they decide they don't want to live like this, watching their faculties fail them, and would rather commit suicide. Harry, who has moments of lucidity, persuades his son that's what he wants, and Jon's opportunistic sister (Christine Ebersole) is delighted they want to die so she can help herself to their finances. The last act of the story sees Jon helping out in murdering his parents, not through giving them an overdose of sleeping pills or some peaceful method, but by placing others' lives in danger as well. This could have raised some laughs if it had emphasised overwhelming desperation, but it's under the impression it's a jolly family comedy. It isn't.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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