Play It Again – The Man With Two Brains

Play It Again – The Man With Two Brains. Starring Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, and David Warner. Directed by Carl Reiner. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

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Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). 

Some comedies age like a fine wine and are enjoyed decades later. Then there’s The Man With Two Brains, the 1983 Carl Reiner comedy starring Steve Martin and Kathleen Turner that is so unevenly funny it eventually becomes boring. This is probably sacrilegious to Martin fans, with this picture often ranking among his best, but when compared to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Parenthood, or The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains only succeeds because of Martin’s performance. The screenplay is undeniably weak, co-written by Martin, Reiner and George Gipe; the trio more successfully collaborated on Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid the previous year.

Martin plays the world’s best brain surgeon, Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, who isn’t shy about tooting his own horn after inventing a screw-top method to perform brain surgery. He mourns the death of his wife Rebecca until he accidentally runs over bombshell Dolores Benedict (Turner). After pitching woo by her hospital bedside, they marry, despite the spirit of Rebecca warning him in one of the film’s truly hilarious moments.

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Dolores is a gold-digger that moves from one unfortunate sap to the next, and refuses to consummate her marriage with Hfuhruhurr. When he takes Dolores on a belated honeymoon to Austria for a work conference, she embarks on an affair while he meets Dr. Necessiter (David Warner), a fellow brain surgeon with a revolutionary experiment underway. There, Hfuhruhurr falls in love with Anne Uumellmahaye (the voice of Sissy Spacek); only problem is she’s just a brain in a jar and he needs to find her a body before she deteriorates entirely.

While there are plenty of funny gags – the continual “Get that cat out of here” while Martin is in surgery; the erection joke that results from Dolores’ withholding of sex – one’s enjoyment may directly correlate to their level of knowledge of cult science fiction flicks. The plot feels undercooked and the humour dependent on underdeveloped characters, like Turner’s vixen. She wears out her range and her stay half an hour in. Even Martin, who on the whole is polished, doesn’t have his usual spark that’s so enjoyable to watch.

2.5/5

The Man With Two Brains is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.

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