MR. MAGOO (1997)
“A strange man with poor eyesight bumbles around and is confused about the world around him” is a fine premise for a cartoon from the ’50s, but can it be successfully transformed into a coherent live action movie? This is the question that Stanley Tong’s Mr. Magoo must answer. Strap into your eggplantmobile, let’s take a look.
Mr. Magoo (Leslie Nielsen) is an old man with very impaired vision. He has accumulated a fortune through vague means (something involving eggplants or the opera, it would seem?) and has donated a new wing to a large museum.
Nielsen’s performance is even less entertaining than this makes it look.
The wing houses a valuable jewel, the Star of Kuristan. It doesn’t house it for long, however, because it gets stolen. The rest of the movie is devoted to the efforts of far too many people fighting over it. At least nine, by my informal count, and that’s far too many for an 87-minute movie. Rather than going through the painfully convoluted plot point by point, I’ll just list the characters involved and why they give a shit about the jewel:
- Luanne LeSeur (Kelly Lynch) is the jewel thief who initially thieves the jewel. She’s apparently known for always killing each and every one of her accomplices, so that she doesn’t leave a trail. How anyone knows this, if she kills everyone, is anybody’s guess. She wants the jewel for herself, because she’s a greedy greedy thief.
With a painted-on mask?
- Bob Morgan (Nick Chinlund) is Luanne’s partner, who really works for a crime boss who doesn’t trust Luanne, what with all that accomplice-killing. Morgan is very stupid. Also, his pants fall off quite a bit.
- Stacey Sampanahoditra (Jennifer Garner) is an ambassador from the fictional nation of Kuristan. She wants to recover the Star of Kuristan for patriotic reasons. She’s also in love with Magoo’s shitty nephew (Matt Keeslar) or something.
Less offensive than if she were dressing up like an actual nationality, but still doesn’t sit well.
- Agent Chuck Stupak (Stephen Tobolowsky) is trying to recover the jewel for the FBI. He hates the CIA.
- Agent Gus Anders (Ernie Hudson) is trying to recover the jewel for the CIA. He hates the FBI.
“Needle-Nose Zeddemore” would be their celebrity couple name.
- Austin Cloquet (Malcolm McDowell) is the crime boss who hired Luanne to steal the jewel, and then hired Morgan to follow Luanne to make sure she didn’t double-steal the jewel. He also carves bears out of wood with a chainsaw.
It’s a kids’ movie, so there’s no ultra-violence.
- Ortega Peru (Miguel Ferrer) is a South American drug lord who wants to buy the jewel in an evil auction. He’s mostly just here so people can make dumb jokes about his name.
I guess there just weren’t quite enough characters yet.
- Mr. Magoo is an asshole who mostly just putzes about, but eventually gets tricked by Luanne into thinking she’s a CIA agent (a confusing plot point in a movie containing actual CIA agents) and trying to recover the jewel for her.
Magoo’s nephew doesn’t get his own section, because he doesn’t do anything.
- Angus is Mr. Magoo’s constant companion. He’s trying to get the jewel to prevent Magoo from getting mixed up in a lot of illegal bullshit. He’s the only character who is remotely likable, which is a shame, considering that HE’S A FUCKING DOG.
Finally, a character I can relate to!
So, all these ridiculous but unfunny characters come together and ridiculous shenanigans occur.
Like whatever the hell this is.
In the end the jewel is returned, and much time has been wasted.
Since Mr. Magoo‘s entire plot centers around a man with impaired vision getting into improbable scrapes, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume that the film is sending out some subliminal messages through its portrayal of blindness and poor eyesight.
I mean, he doesn’t even know he’s skiing on an ironing board right now.
Bumbling around backstage at the opera, Magoo destroys practically everything in his path because he can’t see that he’s smashing things with an oversized hammer. While fishing, he puts toothpaste on instead of sunscreen. He’s a mess. Clearly blindness and poor eyesight impair one’s ability to be employed in a wide range of jobs.
Especially hammer-/Viking-related ones.
Even the smallest of household chores are insurmountable obstacles. Why, Magoo was so easily confused by the channel getting changed during a cooking show that he ended up dancing with, sanding, and drilling a chicken. His dinner inevitably went unprepared. Clearly, if Magoo can’t even take care of simple tasks like cooking, there’s no way he could ever handle the responsibility of raising a family.
It’s like a terribly sad infomercial.
Assigned with overseeing the unveiling of a new museum wing, Magoo cuts an electric cable, nearly sets the museum on fire, and desecrates a mummy’s tomb. Clearly the blind are incapable of performing important civic duties.
Can’t you see that you’re a menace… wait. Shit.
So… clearly… this film is trying to imply that blindness and poor eyesight impair one’s ability to engage in a well-rounded life, and by taking this stance the film decreases the chances that people with disabilities will be able to live and work without being impeded by prejudice.
Oh, by the way, this disclaimer was tacked on to the end of the film. Make of it what you will:
WHY DON’T PEOPLE LIKE IT?:
It’s painfully obvious that Disney was attempting to make Mr. Magoo cool, a goal beyond the powers of even a massive entertainment corporation with a vice-like grip on the hearts of America’s children. No, not even a vanity license plate reading “THE GOO” can make this near-sighted octogenarian hip.
You know what else isn’t fun? Watching Leslie Nielsen hang out with a man in a poorly proportioned baboon suit for way longer than the joke has any reason to last.
When it runs, it’s creepily obvious that it’s a guy in a costume.
Everything in this movie is either miserably convoluted or just plain unappealing. And let’s face it, it’s hard to get invested in a movie whose entire plot could have been prevented by getting an old man to have some LASIK surgery. It’s all just so damn pointless.
- In a Popeye-esque move, the movie opens and closes with a cartoon Mr. Magoo. Yet again, the animated Magoo only serves to remind us of how shitty the live action version is in comparison.
MOST REGRETTABLE MOMENT:
This movie was made in the late ’90s, so there is really no excuse for dressing Stephen Tobolowsky up as an Indian (complete with dark brown make-up and turban). There isn’t even any plot-related reason why this has to happen; he’s disguised as a take-out delivery driver. He could just as easily have been delivering pizza.
Ummmm… not super cool, guys?
In the end, Mr. Magoo is to be envied: if I had his terrible eyesight, I never would have been able to see this movie. Wakka wakka wakka. Moving on.
Meet the Deedles (1998)