One from the Vault: ‘Johnny Dangerously’

This week’s flick comes pretty close to Al Capone’s vault. It’s a lost classic, the likes no Blu-ray player has ever seen, and one of the final funny performances of a funny man that I miss in funny roles.

Where did the ‘Johnny Dangerously’ Michael Keaton go? After a string of successful comedic movies starring the goofy Keaton of the ’80s, the actor did ‘Batman’ and got all dramatic on us. Why so serious, Michael? I miss the funny Michael Keaton. It makes me think about how I far prefer goofy Nic Cage performances (‘Kick Ass’) than pretentious/lame/serious Nic Cage (just about everything else), but I digress.

‘Johnny Dangerously’ is fun romp down memory lane for a ton of reasons. First, it’s written and directed in that Mel Brooks/Zucker brothers type of joke-a-minute fashion. Second, it stars all sorts of actors who you just don’t see enough of anymore, like Danny DeVito or Joe Piscopo, and others no longer with us, like Peter Boyle and Dom DeLuise. ‘Johnny Dangerously’ even has a theme song by Weird Al Yankovic entitled “This Is the Life.” What more could you ask for? Another crew member who gives this one a nostalgic feeling for me is director Amy Heckerling. After ‘Dangerously’, she went on to do ‘European Vacation’, ‘Look Who’s Talking’ and ‘Clueless’ (not that I want to remember any of those). Several folks contributed to the writing of this one, but the name that sticks out most is Norman Steinberg, who wrote the screenplay for ‘Blazing Saddles’.

‘Johnny Dangerously’ is comedic satire about the age of Prohibition gangsters. Keaton portrays the title character who, as a kid, befriended New York City’s biggest gangster. Against his better judgment, Johnny goes into a life of crime to pay for his mother’s various and hilarious surgeries. His first job is against his gang’s chief rival, Moroni, a fellow who riotously spews a blue streak of just-under-the-MPAA-radar curses about “fargin sneaky bastages” and “iceholes.” The movie also has a pretty dang funny scene when Johnny’s younger brother thinks that he wants to quit law school so he can get married and laid. Johnny shows him an educational video that’s not to be missed. Fast forward several years, and childhood rival “Danny Vermin” (played by Piscopo) starts to cause trouble when Johnny takes over the gang. Tommy guns, dames, night clubs, fedoras, and big wads of cash all play their parts in the story. The gags start to fly from the very first shot as the subtitle “1935” is run over by a model T.

How does it look streamed in HD from Netlfix? Not too shabby. After a fairly bumpy and grainy opening credits sequence, the picture smooths out into a fairly crisp high-definition presentation. Colors are well saturated, and flesh tones are pretty accurate. The odd speck or bit of grain pop up in the occasional scene, but they’re never distracting. Most scenes display fine detail, and only now and again look fuzzy or washed out. Overall, I would say that this is a very nice-looking flick from the ’80s and a great addition to anyone’s Netflix queue.

Catalog titles are still playing catch-up on Blu-ray, and DVDs drop out of circulation all the time. Fortunately, Netflix tries to fill the void. “One from the Vault” is a recurring feature that explores the wide selection of movies that the Netflix Instant Streaming service has to offer that are out of print, unavailable, or just hard to find in other formats.

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