What the hell happened? I’ve never seen a movie so full of fresh comedic ideas so poorly rendered. A buddy-cop comedy written by legendary writer Richard Matheson and his not-so-legendary son, with Bob Clark (a criminally underrated director) at the helm? Pairing up Gene Hackman, one of the best actors of his generation, and Dan Aykroyd, one of the most gifted comic minds of his generation? Taking the idea of the “straitlaced cop/crazy cop” pairing to its illogical comedic extreme? Centering the mystery around a porno film featuring Adolf Hitler? Why does this movie lay like a shameful post-Taco Bell turd, a thick pile of disappointment and wasted potential?

Here’s the answer: Ellis Fielding (Aykroyd) suffers from multiple personality disorder. That’s right — the movie’s hook is also its central liability. It didn’t have to be, but Clark and the Mathesons choose to do nothing even close to interesting with a potentially hilarious conceit. They use the multiple personalities as a cheap gimmick that allows Aykroyd to show off his gift for impersonations and not much else. Ellis doesn’t have distinct personalities so much as an encyclopedic knowledge of TV, cartoon, and movie characters. He slips into a cavalcade of wacky voices and cartoon mannerisms whenever the script decides it’s necessary; otherwise, Ellis reverts to his “normal” personality, a deeply fearful but clearly brilliant detective. Aykroyd shines in this mode and doesn’t do anything offensively wrong in the “wacky” mode — it’s just that the screenplay lets him down by not giving Ellis a more creative way to manifest different personalities.

The plot is almost indescribably insane, which is a plus in a comedy mystery. It opens with German militants chasing a group of sexual fetishists, led by Harry Gutterman (Dom DeLuise), dressed like characters from Alice in Wonderland. No, really. When one of the fetishists gets killed, brash detective Macarthur Stern (Hackman) is put on the case and gets saddled with Ellis, who has just returned to the force after a lengthy stay at a mental hospital. The crime scene quickly leads them to Gutterman, who reveals he saw a porno film involving Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi officials. The Germans are willing to kill anyone who sees the film. Stern and Ellis find themselves teaming up with Gutterman and Riva (Nancy Travis), an undercover Mossad agent, to recover the film and foil the Germans.

Unfortunately, the movie never bothers to make the villains threatening or interesting. They simply appear with machine guns whenever the screenplay decides it’s time for another wacky action sequence. It obviously uses Lethal Weapon as the basis for its formula, but it forgets that Lethal Weapon had colorful bad guys in addition to the central conflict between Murtaugh and Riggs. It’s yet another comedy that fails to reach its potential because everyone involved shrugs and says, “Eh, it’s a comedy. It doesn’t have to have a satisfying story or compelling characters. It just has to be funny.”

Except it’s also not very funny. Clark tries to give the film a manic energy to create the illusion it’s much more entertaining and inventive than it really is. Neither him nor Aykroyd have the power to overcome the script’s inherent shortcomings. Most of the best comedic material goes to Hackman, a straight man with a short fuse and enough dyspeptic one-liners to remain engaging despite the film’s numerous problems.

I can’t stress my disappointment enough. Everyone involved — all people I admire for their various gifts — failed spectacularly. It’s a real shame, because two great comedic ideas (a cop with multiple personalities and a Nazi porno) go to waste.

D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.

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