"Simon" (1980. Directed by Marshall Brickman. Screenplay by Brickman. Story by Brickman and Thomas Baum.
Available at Warner Archive Instant.
THE CAST: Alan Arkin, Austin Pendleton, Madeline Kahn, Wallace Shawn, Max Wright, Judy Graubart.
THE LOGLINE: A secretive scientific think tank decides on a whim to brainwash a college professor to make him believe he's an alien from outer space to see how the world would react. Hijinks ensue.
Good...but not great.
It's got Alan Arkin turning up the neurosis to eleven, a Murderer's Row of great New York character actors backing him up and a script filled with at least a half a dozen big brained comedy ideas.
However, for all the comedic firepower lined up, the film is surprisingly mild. It's more rueful chuckle funny then Ha-Ha funny. Brickman is a compenent filmmaker his first time out. But the film lacks the go for broke, anything for a laugh tone of "Sleeper" or the emotional and structural complexity of "Annie Hall". If anything, it feels like a film version of a particularly dry "New Yorker" cartoon.
But while the film isn't the non stop comedy machine that one would expect, it does have some big laughs in it. Arkin was fresh off "The In-Laws" at this point and at the height of his comic powers. And Simon Mendelssohn is great fit for Arkin. Big hearted, Narcissistic and cracked as all get out. Be it reliving the evolution of man, (The moment when he discovers his sexuality is a case of getting the biggest laugh with the smallest movement.) or demanding the secret formula to Orange Julius, Arkin lands every joke Brickman gives him.
And the supporting cast ain't bad either, You got Austin Pendelton, looking all the world like Harlan Ellison's nebbishy younger brother as the head of the think tank. Judy Graubart providing a slightly shrill voice of reason as Simon's wife. And Wallace Shawn has one classic moment in the beginning as he explains his experiments on crossbreeding humans with cockroaches.
As I said, Simon isn't the comedy machine one would expect from the cast and filmmakers but it's