SECOND OPINION: NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (1991)

NOTE 1: We originally ruled Nothing but Trouble off consideration for the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, but Bryan Pike offers another opinion.

NOTE 2: Pete Trbovich made Nothing but Trouble his “Staff Pick.” The film now has an official Certified Weird entry.

DIRECTED BY: Dan Aykroyd

FEATURING: Chevy Chase, Demi Moore, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy

PLOT: Financial publisher Chris Thorne (Chase) meets lawyer Diane Lightson (Moore) and agrees to escort her to Atlantic City.  Along the way, Thorne makes a scenic detour to the decrepit mining town of Valkenvania, and failing to comply with a stop sign is pursued by local cop Dennis Valkenheiser (Candy) who then takes them before his 106-year-old grandfather, Judge Alvin Valkenheiser (Aykroyd).

Still from Nothing But Trouble (1991)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: While the film is equally bizarre in both conception and execution, the most baffling aspect is how writer-director-producer-star Aykroyd thought there would be an audience for this relentlessly grotesque, misfiring comic take on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Haunted Mansion. The film is abundant with carnival-ride execution devices, adult-sized mutant babies, cleft palates, and sexually unsettling geriatric imagery. Although it has the typical story structure of an SNL alumni comedy a la Spies like Us, the imagery is truly macabre and surreal, and the tone so haphazardly uneven it’s like the film is nestled atop one of the Judge’s ball pits.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Aykroyd’s penis nose as hallucinated (?) by Chase during the revolting dinner scene.

COMMENTS: “The cat’s eyes’ll spin!” bellows the Judge from behind his clunkily automated courtroom as the bewildered captives look on. Their disconcerted reactions arguably reflect the response of viewers who happen upon this strange, forgotten oddity from the early nineties. Not gory enough to be a horror film and not eliciting sufficient laughs to be considered a comedy, this mawkishly executed film simply leaves one giggling nervously and asking, why?

Aykroyd’s creation in the arthritic, mummified, pontificating Judge Alvin is equivalent to giving the least appealing character of the Austin Powers franchise, Fat Bastard, his own film. Chevy Chase sleepwalks through his performance as snarky Thorne, and Demi Moore looks confused as to what she’s doing in the film at all. John Candy fares better as the put upon Cop, but his transvestite turn as the Officer’s sister is easy pantomime dame humor at its worst. The inexplicable presence of hip-hop group Digital Underground in Judge Alvin’s court, with a young Tupac Shakur in tow, seems intended to bring in the “young” audience by creating a signature tie-in hit tune like the titular song of Ghostbusters. I’m afraid the device wasn’t successful, neither in the film nor in real life; Nothing But Trouble had a $40 Million budget and made around $8 Million at the box office.

Once the movie reaches the Judge’s home any plotting or story gets thrown out the window in favor of a series of amusement ride set pieces: “The Bone Stripper” roller coaster which the Judge employs for execution, rooms which trap occupants inside, and even a moving Hallway that nearly crushes Chase and Moore. For all of these elaborate devices, including a slide that leads Chase into a pit of human bones, nothing significant happens in the middle of the film, leading to a sense of inertia and pointlessness about the whole proceeding. The human sized mutant babies (one of whom is also played by Aykroyd) disturb. They are filthy, ghoulish infants, attempting “cute” jokes which fall flat and playing cards with Moore, evidently to give her something to do at that point in the film.

By the time the climax rolls round and the cartoonish ending sends Chase through a wall leaving his outline behind, you’ll feel like you’ve been hit with an hour and a half of ugliness with no jokes to temper the horror. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it remains Aykroyd’s sole directorial outing and a truly weird piece of mainstream cinema.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Aykroyd here has lovingly, meticulously created a hideous, grotesque nightmare world nobody in their right mind would want to visit the first time around, let alone return to.”–Nathan Rabin, Onion A.V. Club

3 thoughts on “SECOND OPINION: NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (1991)”

  1. If you read both my review and Bryan’s (which was written without the benefit of having read mine first), it’s clear we both saw the exact same movie, and agree as to its (lack of) quality. Yet, we came to opposite conclusions about whether it should make the List or not. Nothing but Trouble is definitely a weird movie, and I can see how someone could consider it an essential watch in the genre, so I’m allowing myself to be overruled and opening this one back up for consideration (especially since Bryan went to all the trouble to write it up).

  2. I’ll shamelessly pitch my own write-up of this forgotten cult weirdo here:

    http://www.moviemeanings.com/blog/the-most-misunderstood-movie-1991-s-nothing-but-trouble

    …mostly because I apparently caught a lot of subtext that went over the audience’s heads (though one could hardly blame them).

    I’d make two final arguments for this movie making the list after all: (1) If Arizona Dream makes the list then this movie should too; it is undoubtedly the kind of movie “Hollywood bureaucracy has been established precisely to prevent.” (2) Just because a movie is bad, gross, a flop, or off-putting shouldn’t disqualify it from the list – see Takashi Miike’s entries or 1997’s Gummo at #20 on the list.

    I’ll shut up about it now.

    1. Greg has now added it to the list, Pete:) I do take your argument though with the comparison to “Arizona Dream” – I don’t regard it as being a good film, its a tragically flat and uninspired entry from the normally vibrant Emir Kusturica.

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