A film student could probably write a doctoral dissertation on Chevy Chase's convoluted movie career. Once considered the most promising cast member on a nascent Saturday Night Live, Chase was one of the first from that show to make an exodus into major motion pictures. His initial efforts boded well for the future. One can still watch films like "Foul Play," "Caddyshack," and "Seems Like Old Times" and laugh at this comedian's brilliant ability to garner laughs. In his early career, Chase stayed true to his comedic stylings--namely relying on his deadpan delivery, his embrace of the inane and ridiculous, and his marvelous skill at throwing out brilliant lines that are still quotable today. Even when his career turned south, his best movies always incorporated the traits listed above. "Fletch," the first and third installment of the National Lampoon Vacation films, and "Funny Farm" worked because Chase stayed close to his roots. His career foundered because he tried to leave this reservation. "Modern Problems," "The Three Amigos," "Nothing But Trouble," and a host of other films effectively sank his career. Some would say "Deal of the Century" helped deal the deathblow. Maybe so, but I love this film.
"Deal of the Century" centers on Chevy Chase playing a fourth rate arms dealer named Eddie Muntz. His character sells firearms, munitions, explosives, and other military gear in every third world hot spot on the planet. When we first meet Eddie, he's trying to wrap up a deal with a band of revolutionaries in some Central American toilet. Just when the money comes through, the government arrives on the scene and starts shooting. Muntz loses his money, loses his hardware, and receives a bullet in the foot for his troubles. Limping back to his fleabag hotel in defeat, he happens to run across a frantic Harold DeVoto (Wallace Shawn) in the next room over. This guy's going nuts waiting for a phone call that will seal a multi-million dollar deal involving an experimental aircraft called the Peacemaker. Muntz talks the guy down, leaves the room, and has to run back in when he hears a gunshot. DeVoto couldn't take the pressure waiting for that phone to ring, which it does a few seconds after DeVoto put the gun to his head. Now Eddie Muntz assumes a new identity--salesman for the Peacemaker--as he tries to make his own deal of the century.
As the movie progresses, we meet Muntz's partner Ray Kasternak (Gregory Hines), a former fighter pilot turned arms merchant who's starting to have second thoughts of a decidedly religious nature about selling death to poor countries. We also meet DeVoto's wife Catherine (Sigourney Weaver), a woman drifting into Eddie's orbit after she discovers that he's trying to steal her late husband's deal. The three agree to pitch in together so they can make the sell and walk away multi-millionaires. Problems soon ensue, not the least of which revolve around a sleazy third world despot named General Cordosa (William Marquez). He keeps stonewalling Muntz and company about the sale. In the end, he demands a very special favor before he'll shell out the big bucks. Another difficulty involves basket case Frank Stryker (Vince Edwards), an executive at the arms factory that makes the Peacemaker. Closely related to Stryker's vitriolic rages are the mechanical problems plaguing the aircraft. Everything comes to a head at a huge weapons expo at the end of the movie. Will Eddie seal the deal? Will Ray reconcile his newly found belief in Christ with his career as a death merchant? Watch the movie and find out!
I can't help but love this movie. I know many hate it, but I think it's got a lot of things going for it. Director William Friedkin tried to make both a comedy and a serious political satire about the arms race with "Deal of the Century," and for the most part both pieces work well. Some of the satire is heavy-handed, i.e. the stock footage of missiles firing when Catherine's working her magic with General Cordosa, but it's still interesting to watch. The outright humor is more effective. Chase gets a lot of neat dialogue to work with, which he fires off in that deadpan style fans love, and he has several memorable scenes that stay with the viewer long after the credits roll. I love the scene when he pulls an assault rifle on a street thug trying to rob him, or when he's demonstrating a rocket launcher in a hotel room. The line he throws out when he first meets Catherine--"What's a place like this doing wrapped around a girl like you?"--rates high as one of my favorite Chevy Chase quotes (I hope I got it right. If not, I'll hear about it). Perhaps the best sequence in the film doesn't even involve Chase. It's a scene centering on Ray, a car accident, and a flamethrower. Good stuff.
Sadly, the only extra on the disc is a trailer for the film. We do get a nice widescreen picture transfer and decent audio. Obviously, I'd like a commentary track, but I'm just happy the movie finally made the trek to DVD. I'm going to give "Deal of the Century" five solid stars. It might not achieve the Olympian heights of "Vacation," "Fletch," and a few other Chevy Chase classics, but it's always been a personal favorite of mine ever since I used to watch it on cable television back in the early 1980s during my summer breaks from school. If you're new to Chase's wacky brand of humor, I'd recommend starting out with one of his better-known pictures. Only when you learn to appreciate his wicked style should you migrate to this film. And when you finally make the trip, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.