Tag Archives: Dan Aykroyd

269. NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (1991)

“An adequate song score album for a movie that utterly failed to live up to its weird potential.”–Steven McDonald, reviewing the soundtrack to Nothing but Trouble

DIRECTED BY:

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

PLOT: Four carefree travelers go for a drive in New Jersey. They get pulled over in a small backwater town for running a stop sign and have to be escorted to the local judge. They are then imprisoned in a haunted-house like mansion that shares premises with a junkyard.

Still from Nothing But Trouble (1991)

BACKGROUND:

  • Dan Aykroyd’s background probably destined him to make at least one weird movie. Both of his parents were Spiritists, and he’s had a fascination with the occult since childhood that inspired him to create Ghostbusters, among other hits.
  • This is Aykroyd’s sole directing credit (he also wrote). Canadian-born Aykroyd was once pulled over for a speeding ticket while on his motorcycle in the States, and had to be escorted to a courthouse in a small town. Legend has it that this movie was inspired by that event.
  • The movie had a budget of $40 million and only pulled in $8.5 million. Critics panned it, including Roger Ebert, who declined to review it in written form. It also got nominated for the Razzies for Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actress (John Candy in drag), Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay, though it “won” only for Worst Supporting Actor (Akroyd).
  • Digital Underground worked their cameo in this movie into a music video for their 1991 single “Same Song,” which entered MTV rotation. It still shows up periodically on cable music stations.
  • After the movie flopped, Akroyd wrote an apology letter to the cast taking full credit for the film’s failure.
  • Pete Trbovich‘s Staff Pick for a Certified Weird movie.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a movie with no shortage of contenders, the scenes everybody leaves raving about are the ones with the Mr. Bonestripper ride. This is a backyard roller-coaster in which victims are given a final ride before being dumped into a leering cartoon maw with mechanical teeth which grind the victims down to shiny, polished bones, which are then ejected out the back towards a bullseye target painted on a metal fence. It even has its own theme song, courtesy of the band Damn Yankees. Are we having fun yet?

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Model train dining; subliminal penis nose; mutant junkyard fatties

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Nothing but Trouble invents its own genre, hereby known as Industrial Gothic, which plays on the horrors of Americana. These extend to labyrinthine freeway exits, small town hicks, Rust Belt ghost towns, corrupt law enforcement, class struggles between disenfranchised Main Street and out-of-touch Wall Street, welded-together death machines, compulsive hoarding, and a lack of mental health care. Take a Canadian-born comedian who’s had a scary run in with American law enforcement and let him make a Kafkaesque pitch-black comedy that will be the first (and so far only) Industrial Gothic movie, and this is exactly what you get.


Original trailer for Nothing but Trouble

COMMENTS: To be a fan of weird movies, your expectations must Continue reading 269. NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (1991)

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

CAPSULE: NOTHING BUT TROUBLE (1991)

DIRECTED BY: Dan Aykroyd

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

PLOT: New York professionals are imprisoned by an ancient self-appointed judge in his ramshackle house inside his own New Jersey fiefdom.

Still from Nothing But Trouble (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It turns out that what’s weird in Nothing but Trouble was originally intended to be funny, rather than uncanny. Who could tell?

COMMENTS: Nothing But Trouble proved to be a prophetic description of how this alleged black comedy about a provincial judge taking the law into his own hands would effect its stars’ careers. Heck, it’s even an embarrassment in the filmography of Tupac Shakur. John Candy, who wears a dress and models plus-size lingerie, emerges from the film with the most dignity intact. As the alleged star, charisma-less mogul Chevy Chase is so laid back that he seems totally disengaged. Chase is more a vehicle for delivering one-liners than he is a leading man; if the script doesn’t assign him good jokes (and this one doesn’t), his essential blandness shines through. Demi Moore’s character, a lawyer in hotpants, makes no sense at all. She’s a rich and powerful Manhattan lawyer who has to hitch a ride to Atlantic City with a strange bachelor for no better reason then that he’s sending out a vibe that says “I can’t carry this film myself, I desperately need a love interest.” She quickly turns from putative competent career woman into helpless damsel in distress. Jumping up to play a surprise blues riff on the organ during Digital Underground’s big rap number, Dan Aykroyd obviously thinks his character, withered old “Reeve” Valkenheiser, is a hilarious foil—I imagine he’s modeling his performance on Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice—but in reality the heat from the pounds of latex makeup he’s wearing has just made the actor temporarily delirious. At times—not always, mind you—Aykroyd’s prosthetic nose is shaped like the glans of a penis. Whether this is intentional or just a result of bad makeup continuity is anyone’s guess.

On the other hand, if name-brand stars are going to humiliate themselves, they might as well do it on a spectacular set. Nothing But Trouble‘s cluttered old haunted house, full of sliding panels, paintings with the eyes cut out (like in a 1930s Three Stooges short), and piles of skulls illogically piled at the bottom of slides, all plopped down in the middle of a Jersey junkyard, is a good (and expensive-looking) creation. There are surprises around every corner, like the “Bonestripper” roller coaster ride, the spontaneous rap music video, and the pair of morbidly obese adult babies who far surpass Valkenheiser in latex repulsiveness. This comedic train wreck concludes with two twist endings and a “Looney Tunes” sound effect—always a sign of desperation. Although the movie never quite slows down enough to become boring, there are no real laughs to be had, and this not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. The best way to salvage some entertainment value out of Nothing but Trouble to approach it in a spirit of mockery, with good companions and ample libations to soften the blow.

Nothing But Trouble has shown up multiple times in the “What Was That Weird Movie?” thread. Despite flopping at the box office, it proved to be natural filler for cable television—it was cheap to license but starred recognizable faces that would make people stop while flipping through the channels. Many people therefore saw, for example, the scene where Aykroyd takes off his nose, but didn’t know what they were watching.

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