Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Film Appreciation - I Am the Left Over Crap

Cody Hamman has Film Appreciation for the 1988 comedy Twins, one of the first movies he ever saw in the theatre.

As far as I can recall at the moment, I started going to see movies in the theatre in 1988, when I was four years old, turning five. For years, I thought the first movie I ever saw on the big screen was the Arnold Schwarzenegger / Danny DeVito comedy Twins. I would eventually come to realize that there was a different movie I saw earlier in 1988, so Twins wasn't my introduction to the theatrical experience, but I do still remember the day I went to see it - and maybe this memory got scrambled along the way, or young Cody got confused, but ever since that day I have been convinced that I had to make a choice between seeing Twins or All Dogs Go to Heaven. And yet dates on the internet tell me that All Does Go to Heaven came out eleven months after Twins, by which time Twins was already on VHS. But I have always been certain, for some reason or another, that when we got to the theatre my parents asked me if I wanted to see Twins or All Dogs Go to Heaven, and I chose Twins.

This memory has always been stuck in my mind, because I was always a very neurotic kid and I was haunted by having to make that choice. Did I make the right decision? Would we have had a better time seeing All Dogs Go to Heaven? My age was in the single digits and I was having an existential crisis over a choice between two movies. I wish I could go back and tell myself to chill. To enjoy being a kid more, have fun, stop worrying so much, stop overthinking everything. Leave the worries to adult Cody, who will have plenty of real tough situations to deal with.

It doesn't even make sense that I troubled myself over choosing to see Twins, because all three of us - my parents and I - enjoyed the movie. We had a good time seeing it together, so there should have been no second guessing. But that's the sort of kid I was. Almost thirty years later, I am really glad I went to see this movie with my parents. I'm glad we had that experience together.

Directed by Ivan Reitman, Twins was a change of pace for Schwarzenegger at the time. He had just spent several years making violent action movies like Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Commando, Predator, and The Running Man, and now he was doing a PG-rated comedy. There is still a thriller aspect to the film, as there would be to Reitman and Schwarzenegger's next family-friend comedy Kindergarten Cop, but the viewer's knowledge of Schwarzenegger's cinematic résumé is used to bring chuckles in Twins, as his character states on more than one occasion that he wants nothing to do with violence.

Schwarzenegger plays Julius Benedict, the product of a scientific experiment conducted by the American government in hopes of producing a physically, mentally, and spiritually advanced human being. To create such a person, the genes of six men were spliced together, and the resulting cocktail was used to impregnate one woman, Mary Ann Benedict (Heather Graham in a wordless cameo). Told that his mother died in childbirth, Julius was then raised by an Austrian doctor on a private island, where he spent his entire life consuming knowledge.

On his 35th birthday, Julius is informed that he wasn't the only result of that experiment. He has a twin brother, who lives in Los Angeles. Excited by the idea of having a sibling, Julius leaves his island home for the first time in his life and heads to L.A. in search of his twin.

With Julius, the experiment was a success - he is mentally and spiritually advanced, and Schwarzenegger was a hell of a physical specimen in his day. Things didn't turn out quite so perfectly with his twin brother Vincent (Danny DeVito), who is a slimy, womanizing criminal, and of course DeVito has a very different physicality than Schwarzenegger. Julius is 6'2" and muscular, Vincent is 4'10", bald and overweight - and Reitman fills the film with shots of the two side-by-side, getting everything he can out of their physical differences.

Julius is intelligent but super naive, and Vincent takes advantage of him, making his newfound brother unknowingly take part in his auto theft / chop shop dealings. Vincent's criminal lifestyle is how the thriller aspect is worked into the story; he owes $20,000 to the Klane brothers, loan sharks, and those brothers are very willing to resort to violence to get their money.

As if that weren't trouble enough, Vincent also finds himself in possession of a stolen car with a very important piece of merchandise in the trunk - a prototype engine worth $5 million, to be paid upon delivery to a man in Houston, Texas with the incredible name of Beetroot McKinley. $5 million is so enticing that Vincent decides to make the delivery himself. He'll collect the cash and head off to Brazil... Unfortunately, this plan means that he also gets on the bad side of the man he stole the car and the prototype from, a homicidal fellow named Mr. Webster (Marshall Bell, a.k.a. the Coach from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and the uncaring dad from Stand by Me).

While Vincent's illegal antics bring action and violence into the fold, Julius has a more heartwarming storyline going on. Paperwork from the orphanage Vincent was raised in indicates that Mary Ann Benedict didn't actually die in childbirth. She's out there somewhere, still alive, and Julius wants to find her. Bitter over being abandoned, Vincent isn't so enthusiastic about Julius's search. At least, not at first.

There's also a bit of a love story in here, as Julius strikes up a romance with Marnie Mason (Kelly Preston), the sister of Vincent's girlfriend Linda (Chloe Webb). The girls accompany the brothers on their road trip to Houston - Vincent's destination happens to be in the same direction Julius needs to go in his search for their mom.

So Twins is a film that really has a little bit of everything. Comedy, romance, action, thrills. It's a comedy above all, and while it's not uproariously funny, it is quite charming. Much of the action has a humorous edge to it as well, because Julius is rejecting violence while still knocking bad guys around with a superhuman strength.

Most of the humor is derived from the differences in the characters of Julius and Vincent - one is tall, one is short, one is pure, one is a criminal, one is a virgin, one is constantly sleeping around, etc. All of this, and yet they're twins! It's a very simple way to go for laughs, but it works for this film.

The main reason why Twins works at all is because the film has a lot of heart, and this heart shines through in nearly every scene. You know, every scene that doesn't feature something like Mr. Webster shooting people. Julius is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, but it doesn't all come from him. Vincent has it, too. It's a little battered and tarnished, but he is a character who has deep feelings. Those feelings are hurt by the fact that he was tossed aside while Julius got to grow up in comfort, and hurt even more when the brothers talk to a scientist who was involved with the experiment. The doctor says that all of the purity and strength went into Julius, while the unintended Vincent is just the "left over crap".

This is a film all about a quest for a family life, something the two lead characters have never known. It builds up to Julius and Vincent finally being reunited with their long lost mother, still alive, who has been unaware all this time that the experiment resulted in even one living child, let alone two children. After that theatrical viewing I had with my parents, they both said they had teared up while watching the scene where Julius and Vincent get to meet their mom, Mary Ann Benedict (Bonnie Bartlett).

I saw Twins at the theatre and it was an experience that has always stuck with me, even if the All Dogs Go to Heaven choice is a bit of confusion. A movie I didn't see in 1988 that I really wanted to was Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. I had asked my mom to take me to that one, but it's understandable that she didn't want to take a four-year-old to such a movie. Interestingly, there are a couple connections to The New Blood within Twins - at one point, the title of the film can be seen on a theatre marquee in the background, making me wish I could step into the movie and attend a screening of The New Blood in that theatre in 1988, and actress Elizabeth Kaitan, who played one of slasher Jason Voorhees' victims in that Friday the 13th sequel, makes a blink-and-miss-her appearance in Twins as a secretary.

Quite a few viewings of Twins have followed since that trip to the theatre with my parents, I would watch it frequently on cable and VHS in the early '90s and I even watched it on an airplane once, but I'll always remember the fact that my parents and I saw it on the big screen together. It wasn't the first movie I saw in a theatre, but it was one of the firsts, and that viewing had an impact. If given an option of being able to relive select days from my past, the day we saw Twins would rank highly up there among the choices. Young Cody made the right movie decision that day.

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