There's few things worse, cinematically speaking, than an unfunny comedy, and Dan Aykroyd has had his share of them...Caddyshack II (1988), Nothing But Trouble (1991), Canadian Bacon (1995), Sgt. Bilko (1996), Celtic Pride (1996), Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), the list seems endless...but know this, at some point in the past, he did appear in some classic comedies like The Blues Brothers (1980), Neighbors (1981), which I wish would see a DVD release, Trading Places (1983), and this film titled Doctor Detroit (1983). Co-written by Bruce Jay Friedman (Stir Crazy, Splash), Carl Gottlieb (The Jerk, Caveman), and Robert Boris (Some Kind of Hero), and directed by Michael Pressman (The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, Some Kind of Hero), the film features, as I mentioned, Dan Aykroyd, along with Howard Hesseman ("WKRP in Cincinnati", This Is Spinal Tap, Rubin and Ed), Donna Dixon (Spies Like Us), Lydia Lei (Vice Squad), T.K. Carter (Seems Like Old Times, The Thing), Lynn Whitfield (Silverado, The Josephine Baker Story), Fran Drescher (The Hollywood Knights, This Is Spinal Tap), George Furth (Blazing Saddles), Nan Martin (Toys in the Attic), and Kate Murtagh (Waxwork II: Lost in Time), who can also be seen on the cover of Supertramps' biggest selling album "Breakfast in America", posing as the diner waitress holding aloft a glass of orange juice.
Aykroyd plays Clifford Skridlow, a professor of comparative literature (primarily focusing on such antiquated notions as chivalry and honor) who fancies speed walking, Indian food, foreign cinema, and lives with his parents (Cliff's father, played by Furth, is chancellor of the university)...basically the antithesis of cool...on the flipside we see Smooth Walker (Hesseman), man about town, making his living peddling the wares of his rather fine stable of ladies, who are coveted by Mom (Murtagh), the big cheese in town, and to whom Smooth is in debt up to his eyeballs. Mom's willing to settle up (everything Smooth owes, including his ladies, in exchange for his life), but the quick thinking Smooth creates a fictional character called Doctor Detroit, claiming he's in charge of show, and is also trying to muscle in on Mom's territory. After a couple of coincidental meetings, Smooth sets the naïve Cliff up as the patsy, and splits town. With the help of the girls and Smooth's driver Diavolo (Carter), Cliff dons the role as "the bad man from Michigan" out of a sense of honor and duty towards the ladies, assuming the role of their protector. The situation quickly spirals out of control as the strain of leading a double life wears on Cliff, culminating in his worlds colliding when an alumni dinner and the player's ball are scheduled for the same night, at the same hotel, both of which he's supposed to be in attendance, in one persona or another...not only that, but Mom, along with her goons, decide to crash the party and settle the good doctor's hash once and for all.
This was a pretty ridiculous movie, but I enjoyed it, and thought it was pretty funny. Aykroyd does a great job in his dual role, but is helped considerably by the supporting cast, especially the women, who are often dressed provocatively and hard not to notice (oh momma), including Ms. Dixon, who met and married Aykroyd during shooting of this film. Also doing a great job is T.K. Carter, as Smooth's driver, and Kate Murtagh as `Mom', the film's heavy (both figuratively and literally). Did anyone else notice Mom's baldheaded henchmen were named Johnny and Carson? Get it? Johnny Carson? And if the one playing Johnny (Hank Salas) looks familiar, it's probably because he also played Mike, the thug Matt Dillon's character Melvin Moody hired to protect his interests in the 1980 film My Bodyguard. The comedy doesn't flow as smoothly throughout here as in some of Aykroyd's other films of the time, but it is present, and in healthy doses. A few of my favorite scenes include the one where Aykroyd dresses up as a southern gentleman lawyer to get one of the girls out of trouble (the courtroom judge was a real cracker), the scene where we first see Aykroyd as Doctor Detroit, dressed in a scruffy Kato Kaelin wig, yellow sports jacket, green polyester slacks, white platform boots, and a metal gauntlet on his hand, and then near the end, during the finale, when Doctor Detroit does battle with Mom at the hotel. Another scene I really liked was during the Player's Ball, when James Brown was performing. I've never seen a 50-year-old man do the splits like Brown did here, sliding back up as smooth as you please. While I'm going that way I wanted to mention the music, which helped the film a lot. There were some excellent songs spread throughout by such artists as Pattie Brooks, Devo, Rick James, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, and The Godfather of Soul, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Soul Brother Number One, Mr. James Brown. The film is rated R, but only because of profanity...alas, there is no real skin to be had here, which was kind of a disappointment given the attractive supporting female cast.
The widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic picture on this Universal Studios DVD release looks very sharp and clean, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio comes through very clear. Surprisingly there are no special features, not even an original trailer, to be had, but I know the film didn't do very well at the time of its theatrical release, gaining more of a following, I think, from cable viewers (this was how I originally saw the film, since I wasn't old enough to see it in the theaters). One thing I noticed was a couple of errors in the subtitles. The one that stuck out was near the beginning, when T.K. Carter's character calls out to Skridlow (whose speed walking) from his car, "Hey man, nice legs." In the movie, Skridlow replies "Thank you", but in the subtitles he says something very different...watch with English subtitles activated to see what I mean.
By the way, while the film does feature Detroit in the title, much of it was shot in Chicago, the exteriors at least, a favored location of Aykroyd.