Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 12, 2006)
When Gene Wilder didn’t make movies with Mel Brooks, he worked in flicks that seemed like they were created by Brooks. Audiences could easily be mistaken and think that Brooks was behind efforts like 1979’s The Frisco Kid and 1975’s The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.
I didn’t care much for Frisco, but I hoped to take more pleasure from Brother. The flick introduces us to Sherlock’s younger brother Sigerson (Wilder). He jealously lives in his more famous sibling’s shadow and thinks he deserves more credit as a sleuth than he receives.
At the film’s start, Queen Victoria (Susan Field) gives a secret document to Lord Redcliff (John Le Mesurier). This soon goes missing, a fact that seems to potentially endanger the safety of the British Empire. The case ends up in Sigerson’s hands when Sherlock sends Sgt. Orbille Sacker (Marty Feldman) to involve him.
From there Sigerson meets Jenny Hill (Madeline Kahn). An inveterate liar, Sigerson has to gain her trust to learn the facts of the matter. The film follows Sigerson’s attempts to solve the mystery and all the complications that come along the way.
Narratively, Brother is a mess. For the synopsis, I tried to make sense of the story, but don’t take that to mean that the film itself will seem as clear. In reality, the plot acts as little more than a framework around which Wilder stages a lot of comedy bits.
For the most part, that works fine, though I feel the film would have fared better with a more coherent plot. I don’t particularly mind flicks that favor gags over story, but these succeed best when they feature inconsequential plots. Take something like Caddyshack, for example. It’s also a mess in the narrative sense, but since its story really doesn’t matter, this doesn’t do much to negatively impact the movie’s overall prospects.
That’s not the case for the much more story-oriented Brother, though. Within its first few minutes, its convoluted tale threatens to lose us, and matters don’t much improve as it progresses. There’s a thread of a tale buried somewhere in the mess, but I’ll be damned if I could make much sense of it.
At least the film includes enough fun moments to make it generally enjoyable. To be sure, an excellent cast bolsters matters. Brother packs a mix of Brooks veterans. I already mentioned Wilder’s history with Brooks, and actors Kahn, Feldman and Dom DeLuise popped up in a variety of Mel’s flicks. They add life to this project and help keep its meandering tendencies from becoming too much of a burden.
The film works best when Wilder, Kahn and Feldman appear onscreen together. This doesn’t happen often, but the flick really flies during those moments. They exhibit a wonderful chemistry that helps add life to the proceedings.
Brother enjoys more than a few other quality comedic sequences, though it rarely becomes particularly scintillating. The flick ties together just enough humor and amusement to make it worth a look. This isn’t high quality entertainment, but it acts as a passable diversion.
Beatles fans take note: Brother reunites Help! veterans Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear.