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Paramount Studios presents
Brain Donors (1992)

"Someday you'll have my children. In fact, they're out in the car if you want them."
- Roland T. Flakfizer (John Turturro)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 24, 2004

Stars: John Turturro, Bob Nelson, Mel Smith
Other Stars: George De La Pena, John Savident, Spike Alexander, Juli Donald, Nancy Marchand
Director: Dennis Dugan

MPAA Rating: PG for (innuendo, very brief nudity, comic violence)
Run Time: 01h:19m:24s
Release Date: October 26, 2004
UPC: 097363223641
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+AB+ D-

DVD Review

One wonders why studios often seem determined to make ill-conceived remakes of classic films. The job is inevitably bungled and whatever there was that made the original something special almost always proves to be lightning not recapturable in a bottle. Occasionally, one gets a sense that the studio itself is embarrassed by the affront to the original and tries to slip the remake under the radar. That's the case with the pointlessly-named Brain Donors, a Marx Brothers pastiche that puts a modern spin on one of their greatest films.

Rich widow Lillian Oglethorpe (Nancy Marchand) strives to realize her late husband's dream of starting a ballet company. She summons ambulance-chasing attorney Roland T. Flakfizer (John Turturro) to procure the services of Roberto Volare (George De La Pena) to head the company, though jealous family attorney Edmund Lazlo (John Savident) determines that he will get the lucrative post of organizing the ballet company. That seems likely when Flakfizer engages the services of knockabout morons Jacques (Bob Nelson) and Rocco Melonchek (Mel Smith) to aid him. But young dancers Lisa Le Baron (Juli Donald) and Alan Grant (Spike Alexander) work with Flakfizer to get into the Oglethorpe ballet company.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because this is an ill-disguised remake of A Night at the Opera (1935), stripped of the seagoing voyage (and its famous stateroom setpiece). Turturro takes the Groucho role, while Nelson assumes Harpo's and Mel Smith mutates Chico's Italian into a working-class English (or possibly Australian) accent. Turturro manages the best, adopting Groucho's swagger and fast-paced delivery, but without aping Marx's particular mannerisms. His timing is sharp and he spits out writer Pat Proft's lines with aplomb. Nelson updates Harpo, ditching the silent routine, though he keeps the raincoat. Smith gets a few good absurdist lines in, especially early on as he's describing his many professions. Nancy Marchand isn't quite Margaret Dumont, seeming to be far too willing to accept the antics of Flakfizer and lacking the slow burn of outrage that was under Dumont's snooty exterior. The romantic leads, as in the original, are plenty colorless as required.

Modernizing Kaufman's script doesn't work terribly well. The classic contract gag with the "sanity clause" morphs into a sight gag involving a computer desk hidden in a briefcase and an inflatable doll. Groucho's stateroom comment on "two's company" morphs into "two's company, three's an adult movie" from Turturro. Hiding the provenance of the story was probably a good idea, since this picture suffers greatly by comparison throughout. On its own, and without thinking about the brothers Marx it manages to deliver some laughs, but it will never be mistaken for a classic of the genre. At least it's fast-paced and avoids overstaying its welcome. The Zucker Brothers produced, so a lot of their throw-everything-at-the-screen style can be observed here. The high points are the opening and end titles, featuring bravura claymation by master Will Vinton, scored with bassoons by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo. The rest of the film can't hope to live up to the promise of these titles.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture has a lovely film-like appearance, with excellent and vivid color, plenty of detail and texture evident throughout. I noticed no significant aliasing, artifacting or edge enhancement. The usual splendid job by Paramount.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Although both 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks are presented, most of the film is center-dominated, with just about all the dialogue firmly placed in the middle. The 5.1 track mostly comes into use during the musical sequences, including the titles. A modern dance between Juli Donald and Spike Alexander has plenty of bass and nice presence. The score by Ira Newborn generally sounds fine, with little distortion and no clipping. The sound is very clean and no significant hiss or noise is present to distract.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than English subtitles (and closed captioning) there are no extras. Chaptering is a bit thin, with only 10 stops.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

For best enjoyment, wipe the Marx Brothers from your memory. It's not as bad as some remakes and pastiches have been, though. Worth a rental mostly for Turturro and the terrific title sequences. It's presented with a good transfer but devoid of extras.


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