Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Old-School Forgotten Sequels: The Mouse on the Moon

For all of you who say that I tend to focus on weird and obscure movies, here is all the proof you've ever needed.  In 1959, a book called 'The Mouse That Roared' was adapted into a film.  The movie starred Peter Sellers and was 'on the nose' in its commentary about a brewing Cold War crisis.  Over the next several years, four more books were written, including 'The Mouse on Wall Street.'  Oddly, only one other was actually adapted into a film- The Mouse on the Moon.  This film focuses on the same, fictitious country the size of a suburb from the first film.  In this one, they find a way to make some money while everyone is trying to get into space.  Okay, it's not all that relevant now, but you can still laugh.  As a bonus, the film was made by Richard Lester, a man who would break out with a little film called A Hard Day's Night.  Of course, to me he'll always be that hack who made Superman III.  Can I get past my bias and expectations to enjoy this film?  Get out your flying statue for my review of...
The film begins with a bit of history of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, a tiny little country full of British people.  It's not really clear how they're a separate country or why they are all British, but don't look for too much logic in a Richard Lester film.  The tiny country is full of many rich traditions, including a big ceremony celebrating the Duchess' birthday.  It's not as fun when you consider that four soldiers get killed in the process.  The 1960s- a time when manslaughter was funny.  Their Prime Minister is a snooty man who doesn't have indoor plumbing in his castle.  That's apparently too much of a luxury for a person who lives in a castle!  For those of you who may wonder why the sets look familiar, it's because they're left over from Cornel Wilde's Sword of Lancelot, which was filmed just a bit earlier.  The country faces a minor crisis when their only export- wine- hits a bit of a snag: it explodes.  That's right- their wine explodes!  To deal with this, the Prime Minister devises a devious scheme.  They will ask for money from the United States, saying that it is for research into building a rocket ship to take them to the moon.  He figures that they'll say 'yes,' since it's a cheap way to look impartial in the space race.  That's one way to pay for your pipes.
Unfortunately, this 'get wet quick' scheme is slowed down by some troublemakers.  First, there's a group of rebellious young people who like to shout and throw rocks.  Why do they protest?  Because there's nothing else to do.  Any questions about how Lester feels about hippies?  The Prime Minister's son- who looks to be in his late '30s- returns home from College in London and doesn't like the father's plan.  Of course, his bigger focus is on getting in touch with the town's only cute blond girl.  When there's not much to choose from, decisions are pretty easy to make.  If you like quick-fire editing, this is your movie, by the way.  The film can't seem to focus on the story for too long, choosing to jump from one sight gag to another.  Get used to that 'fade out' dissolve too.  When the United States gives them a million dollars (in 1963 money), the other nations get jealous and try to help out too.  It has nothing to do with the Grand Fenwick, mind you- it's just about posturing.  To one-up them, the Russians send them one of their spare rockets.  Thanks, guys.  A series of random gags ensue, mostly centering around the people trying to move the rocket out of the town square.  If it's there, where will our soldiers randomly die?  The British are suspicious of the whole thing, so they have only one solution: send in Terry-Thomas!
Thomas is here to bring some joy to my life, but even he can only do so much.  He learns about the plan concocted by the Prime Minister's son and the country's only scientist.  The Prime Minister wants them to fake an accident, in order to cover the money spent on other projects.  However, they plan to send a rocket out for real.  The secret is in their radioactive wine, which contains a made-up element that is basically flubber.  They explain their fake science to the Prime Minister of England and the United States President, who get a little annoyed when the thing actually takes off!  Their ship, it seems, doesn't travel like normal ships.  It just kind of floats for a while until it gets to it's destination.  From the Earth to the three and a half weeks.  Just smile and nod, people.  The U.S. and Russia launch their own shuttles at the 11th hour in an attempt to still be at the Moon first.  Unfortunately for them, the son accidentally makes the ship go faster, sending them their first.  On the surface, the groups act friendly, until the others are told to rush home to be the first nation to return to the Earth from the Moon.  Their ships get stuck in the lunar dust, however, and they have to hitch a ride with the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.  All is well...until Slim Pickens accidentally causes WWIII.  The End.
This movie is...not that good.  The plot is simple enough, but falters in its execution.  Like I said before, the movie appears to be mostly made out of dozens of one to two minute scenes.  Did Richard Lester have ADD or did other people really direct films like this?  Mind you, this is the same guy that added the 'Superman throws his symbol made out of vinyl' bit to Superman II, so feel free to question his logic.  The jokes are never great here- merely alright.  I love The Mouse That Roared and really hoped that this could stand side-by-side with it.  Unfortunately, the execution is quite a bit weaker here and the jokes never quite stick.  The casting is alright here- aside from no Sellers- but does nothing all that great.  A film like this needs a great hook and it doesn't have it.  Rich people want more money- seen it.  There is some good satire here- the British people's take on America is good- but it is too dated overall.  I can state for a fact that there is a way to make Cold War Comedy stand up- see Dr. Strangelove- and this film shows how you can make it just another film.  There are far worse comedies out there, but there is also not a lot here to really recommend.  Sorry, Britain.
Next up, a sci-fi classic has a very unfortunate follow-up.  Despite it's faults, it's still more interesting than the TV show that spun off of it.  Stay tuned...

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