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Johnny Dangerously

Thanks to all-night, nonstop cable television, Johnny Dangerously (1984) likely won't fade into obscurity anytime soon — Amy Heckerling's gangster spoof is effortlessly watchable entertainment, even if it isn't consistently funny. Michael Keaton stars as Johnny Kelly, a young immigrant lad who grows up on the hardscrabble streets of New York at the turn of the century. Fatherless, Johnny takes it upon himself to look after his aging mother (Maureen Stapleton) and earnest younger brother Tommy (Griffin Dunne). But when Johnny needs money to pay for Ma Kelly's latest surgery, he turns to local gangster Jock Dundee (Peter Boyle), soon becoming a ranking member of his mob as "Johnny Dangerously." Posing as a law-abiding nightclub owner by day, Johnny's got it all, including a sweet dame in torch singer Lil Sheridan (Marilu Henner). But brother Tommy joins the DA's office and swears to put the mysterious Dangerously behind bars, and before long rival gangster Danny Vermin (Joe Piscopo) plots his own dastardly scheme as well. While Johnny Dangerously elicits a few good-natured grins, it rarely delivers the belly-laughs it's aiming for. Crafted in the zany-spoof mold of Airplane! and The Naked Gun, a lot of the sketch-bits don't catch fire, and the script suffers from running-gag syndrome by occasionally taking a halfway-good joke and beating it to death. It's as if it was written in somebody's dorm room after 1 a.m. and a few doobies. But despite these shortcomings, Dangerously fills the bill as a lighthearted comedy thanks primarily to the cast. This was Michael Keaton's third film, but his tremendous talent had him headlining projects because of his quirky mannerisms and manic style — here, Keaton toys with the false sentiment like a cat with a mouse, and often his facial expressions change as rapidly as if he were animated by Chuck Jones. As young Tommy, Griffin Dunne has fun with his straight-man role, and Marilu Henner is used well as the sexy songstress Johnny falls for. Great support also comes from Peter Boyle as kingpin Jock Dundee, Joe Piscopo as the psychotic Danny Vermin, Maureen Stapleton as the foul-mouthed Ma Kelly, and Danny DeVito as oily District Attorney Burr. But perhaps Dangerously has become a minor entry in film history thanks to just one character — mobster Roman Moroni (a funny Richard Dimitri), who butchers the English language with swear words like "fargin," "icehole," and "corksucker." Dimitri provides some of the film's most outlandishly funny moments. And if it's just you, a few friends, and a few beers, that may be more than enough. Fox's DVD release of Johnny Dangerously features a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby 2.0 Stereo. The original theatrical trailer features Piscopo as pissed-off Danny Vermin. Trailers for other "Fox Flix" titles, keep-case.
—JJB



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