Carl Reiner was responsible for some of the best comedies of the seventies and eighties when he teamed up with Steve Martin and made such classics as The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains, but rather sadly he passed away this week which inspired me to finally check out his poorly received 1989 musical, Bert Rigby, You’re A Fool, a comedy set in an English coal mining town. But did it deserve the mauling it received? Or is it a misunderstood minor masterpiece?
The answer is neither when it comes to those questions, but though it’s in no way a disaster it is something of a misjudged movie, a perils of fame affair that never quite delivers on the promise it keeps hinting at. It’s also not quite sure if it wants to be a musical or not either, Lindsay belts out a couple of songs at the beginning of the movie but then there’s a half hour gap before the next one, and as a lover of the genre and one of the reasons I watched the film I couldn’t help but be a little frustrated by this.
Starring Robert Lindsay as Bert Rigby, a Northern coal miner with dreams of stardom, he narrates his tale to a bored patron of a bar that both are in, and we learn that Rigby’s obsessed with old Hollywood musicals and silent films and after winning a talent competition where he covered a famous number and pulled off some minor clowning he was hired by the competition’s organiser Sid Trampel (Robbie Coltrane) to take part in the show each and every night as they toured it across the country. Why anyone would do this is never quite explained, but hey, it means that Bert is separated from his long suffering girlfriend Laurel (Cathryn Bradshaw) and that separation becomes even more extreme when an American advert director (Bruno Kirby) spots Bert and wants him to do his thing in America.
Of course it’s not long before everything goes wrong and after shooting just one advert out of a supposed long campaign Bert finds himself all but penniless and his dreams of stardom have never been further away. But after a couple of adventures as a pizza delivery boy and a tree trimmer Bert is then hired by a movie producer to teach film star Jim Shirley (Corbin Bernstein) how to do a Northern accent in an action flick. Shirley’s a bit of a womanising shit but though Rigby is judgemental that doesn’t stop him hanging out with him, and as the two bond it looks like Rigby may finally get his chance to appear on the big screen.
Though the singing is fairly decent (Reiner apparently spotted Lindsay on the West End stage and thought he was amazing, though I wouldn’t go that far) whenever Lindsay is doing his silent film homages it’s quite weak, as is much of the slapstick element (something Reiner and Steve Martin did so incredibly well when working together), and the segment where they go on tour and travel around the country is pretty poor as a whole. I’m very fond of Robbie Coltrane and he’s normally someone you can trust comedy wise but his character’s just a bit annoying here, and the way his wife keeps on trying to sexually assault Bert quickly becomes irritating.
Fortunately Bert’s antics once he’s been fired from the advertising campaign are far more amusing, and here the film begins to reflect the films Reiner made with Steve Martin as they’re much sillier and thus much funnier. So there’s reasonably big laughs to be had from Bert’s inability to be a successful pizza boy, while the way he foils a robbery using a football is a strong scene too, and a couple of other amusing moments involve a football match early on where there’s lots of genital punching, an advert for condoms is daft indeed and some of the song and dance numbers are endearing too, a medley performed by Lindsay in a pub especially.
Alas there’s way too many slightly bland scenes, Bert’s relationship with his Laurel is rather tiresome and she gets nothing to do other than nag Bert a lot and feel let down by him, understandably though as Bert treats her poorly all too often making him an occasionally unsympathetic twat. The scenes where Bert is recreating some of the classic silent movie star routines from the likes of Chaplin and Buster Keaton are surprisingly bland too, and highlight that though Lindsay’s an amiable singer with a likeable enough voice he’s nowhere close to being the comic performer as those two much loved clowns were.