Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Man With Two Brains (1983)
Studio Line: Warber Bros.

Anyone who doesn't think Steve Martin is one of the funniest fellows on the planet should have his head examined. As The Man With Two Brains, madman Martin is just the guy to do it, Playing Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, famed originator of zip-lock, screw-top brain surgery. The good doctor pines for his late wife - but slinky siren Dolores Benedict sashays into his life and changes all that. They're soon married but the truth quickly emerges: Dolores' beauty hides a calculating heart of stone. The situation is hopeless - until another brain specialist's oddball research offers a bizarre ray of hope. Anyone with half a brain will rejoice in the sheer lunacy of this sublimely sill farce.

Director: Carl Reiner
Cast: Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, David Warner, Paul Benedict, Richard Brestoff, James Cromwell
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Stereo; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; 28 chapters; rated R; 93 min.; $14.98; street date 3/30/99.
Supplements: None
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/C/F

Depressing thought of the day: I'm easily old enough to remember when Steve Martin was best known as a comedian instead of as an actor. Really, it was right around the time of 1983's The Man With Two Brains that the dominant opinion started to change, mainly because I think Martin had ceased to perform stand-up by that point; the more movies he made, the quicker memories of his "wild and crazy guy" routine and other bits faded. The change on sentiment certainly didn't happen because TMWTB lit up box offices. As I recall, it didn't do too well. Actually, I don't think any of Martin's flicks made very much money until 1984's All Of Me, but I could be wrong about that. In any case, TMWTB certainly did little to advance Martin's career as an actor. I won't try to convince you that TMWTB is a forgotten gem, because it's not. However, it does offer a moderate amount of fun and it remains one of Martin's better early efforts.

Ironically, the worst thing about TMWTB stems from the fact that it starts out extremely well. The first 15 or so minutes of the movie are frankly hilarious as the movie provides one great gag after another. And then, all of a sudden, it hits a wall. Don't ask me to pinpoint exactly when this happens, because I can't, but it definitely occurs. The rest of the film remains entertaining, and a few good jokes pop up from time to time, but the overall product seems a little flat.

Still, flat with a few strong spots beats most comedies; the vast majority of "humorous" movies are lucky to eke out a single laugh, much less a bunch of them. When it succeeds, TMWTB does so largely due to the presence of Martin, who was still getting his feet wet in films; he'd made more than a few by that point but his persona still seemed bound to the stand-up comic of the Seventies, despite an attempt in 1981's Pennies From Heaven to alter that. The change would occur - again, aided by the success of All of Me - but Martin still hadn't made that leap in 1983.

Despite the hit or miss nature of the gags in TMWTB, Martin stays consistently watchable and entertaining, and he's backed by an able supporting cast. Kathleen Turner proved surprisingly adept at comedy in her role as evil wife Dolores; she's able to go from sinister to sweet and back again with ease and she provides a fun presence. Also good is David Warner as Dr. Necessiter, an Austrian scientist, and the cast even features personal favorite James Cromwell as a realtor. By the way, the film includes two other noted participants, but I can't reveal their identities; to do so would spoil some of the fun.

My screening of TMWTB highlighted one advantage of my work as a DVD critic: I got one reference to another film that I definitely would have missed a few months ago. Again, I don't want to relate this bit, as it may ruin your own enjoyment, other than to indicate it's a reference to an old Best Picture winner. How obvious the joke will be relates completely to your knowledge of the subject; I got it right away, but I saw the movie in question not long ago, which made it easier. In any case, I enjoyed the gag. I also liked much of The Man With Two Brains. Although it's an erratic piece with a number of slow spots, the overall product remains consistently watchable and it includes a few moments of inspiration. The film makes for a mildly entertaining experience.

The DVD:

The Man With Two Brains appears an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This ratio does not duplicate the dimensions seen theatrically, though I'm not sure how much the picture suffers. Usually these fullframe efforts from Warner Bros. represent open-matte transfers; in those cases, the original movie had exposed the entire frame but the top and bottom were matted to match the 1.85:1 ratio common for these kinds of projects.

It may well be the case that TMWTB offers an open-matte transfer and we lose no information from the sides of the image, but based on what I saw, I'm not sure. The top of the frame often provided enough headroom to make such cropping acceptable, but a number of instances occurred in which I think the picture would have looked bad with matting. Also, the image occasionally seemed too cramped at the sides, and some information appeared to be lost; for example, at 33:06, Martin gets cut off by the side of the frame. These examples aren't egregious, and I never felt completely convinced that this transfer was pan and scan instead of open-matte, but I remain curious.

In any case, the picture looks fairly decent. Sharpness seems quite strong, with almost no instances of softness. The image also appears free of moiré effects or jagged edges for the most part; a couple of hats resulted in mild "jaggies", but that was it. Print flaws are an inconsistent issue. Some very light grain appears at times, and I also noticed periodic white speckles and black grit plus a scratch or two. The oddest faults involve some unusual color flares. A few times during the film - particularly when Hfuhruhurr first tours Dr. Necessiter's condo - I saw very brief blue blotches. These would flash on screen for only a frame or two and then disappear.

Colors generally appeared bold and accurate, with no signs of noise or bleeding. At times some flesh tones seemed bland - Turner looked especially pasty every once in a while - and some interiors appeared slightly oversaturated, but for the most part, hues were solid. Also good are black levels, which seem deep and strong. Shadow detail occasionally looked a little murky but it usually was clear and appropriate. I can't say that TMWTB offers a terrific picture, but it largely seems acceptable.

Weaker is the film's monaural soundtrack. For one, the audio lost a few points because of its single-channel nature; while mono wasn't completely out of line in 1983, it was pretty old-fashioned, and the movie should have offered at least stereo sound.

The quality of the track seems passable but flawed. Dialogue shows the most weaknesses and also appears inconsistent. It always sounds intelligible and sometimes is clean and fairly natural, but the speech often comes across as either flat and muddled or edgy and harsh; the latter problem occurs mostly during louder scenes. Effects are thin but acceptably clear and realistic, and the movie's goofy synthesizer score is similarly adequate; both aspects of the mix lack any significant dynamic range but they sound decent. Ultimately, the soundtrack seems bland but not inappropriate for a film of this vintage.

Only in the area of supplemental features does this DVD completely bomb. That's because there aren't any; no trailer, no production notes, no anything! It's part of Warner's bargain line, with a list price of $14.98; that's as bare-bones as it gets.

Despite the cheap nature of the product, The Man With Two Brains makes for a satisfactory DVD because the film's pretty good. I didn't find it to offer a laugh riot, but it was entertaining and intermittently funny. The DVD provides moderately strong picture with mediocre sound and no extras. For such a low price, fans of Steve Martin should definitely pick it up, while anyone else might want to give it a shot as well if they find it on special.

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