Shakes the Clown

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson


Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English Dolby Surround [CC] & Digital Stereo, subtitles: English, Spanish, single side-single layer, 28 chapters, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Talent Files, rated R, 87 min., $24.95, street date 4/4/2000.

Studio Line

Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Starring Bobcat Goldthwait, Julie Brown, Bruce Baum, Steve Bean, Blake Clark.

Dueling gangs of clowns are pitted against each other in this outrageously funny comedy written by, directed by, and starring Bobcat Goldthwait. Julie Brown co-stars as the hard-working waitress who stands by her clown. Bobcat stars as Shakes, an amiable, alcoholic bozo from Palukaville, USA. But after one particularly wild night, Shakes wakes to find he's been framed for murder. The hilarious suspects include a pack of rude rodeo clowns, a gang of mimes, and an ambitious party clown with eyes for Shakes' sweetheart. As unlikely a superhero as you'll ever meet, Shakes takes to the streets for a slapstick showdown that blows the lid off the big top. Features hilarious performances by Adam Sandler and Florence Henderson.

Picture/Sound/Extras (B/C/D)

If nothing else, Shakes The Clown stands as one unusual movie. I mean, it's not every day that you see a film about the sordid lives clowns lead outside of their jobs.

Based on this picture, I hope the next day in which a film of this sort appears doesn't occur for a looong time. Shakes isn't a terrible movie, and it picks up after a rather grotesque and disgusting start, but I can't say it amused me in any way.

On the surface, Shakes has a lot going for it. It's the brainchild of occasionally decent comedian Bobcat Goldthwait - who wrote, directed and starred in it - and it features some good actors, like Julie Brown, Kathy Griffin and a young Adam Sandler. We also get a cameo from a very famous comedian; I won't ruin the fun by saying who it is other than this hint: the comedian in question has done quite a few unbilled parts in movies.

The concept behind the movie offers some promise. After all, how often do you see anything that focusses upon clowns, much less presents them in this sort of fantasy world where they never remove their make-up and they hang out exclusively with other clowns? Hey, Krusty's world comes close, but it doesn't approach the depth of this clown-centric universe. It's weird enough that it could have worked.

But it doesn't. Maybe it was just the crudeness of the film's start - and of much of the resulting humor - that turned me off. I won't be sanctimonious and slam anyone who likes these kinds of scatological jokes, but I really dislike them; all I have to hear is "Farrelly brothers" and I run the other way. People accuse Sandler's movies of indulging in this stuff, but they generally don't stoop as low, with all the graphic vomiting and discussions of genitalia and bodily functions. Sandler's movies are dumb, but in a smart way (other than the genuinely stupid Big Daddy).

Shakes shows some signs of that kind of life, but it just seems to fall flat. As I already mentioned, I was able to overcome my initial distaste for the film's grossness, but the scenes that attempted to be clever still seemed mildly witty at best. Shakes isn't a terrible movie, but it's not a good one either.

Shakes the Clown appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The DVD offers a generally decent but unspectacular picture.

Sharpness looks consistently good, with adequate definition and no real evidence of softness. Moiré effects pop up from time to time, and I saw occasional artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV, but both of these were pretty minor. The print itself displayed intermittent grain but no other flaws such as speckles, scratches or spots; it's a clean presentation.

Colors generally looked pretty vivid and accurate, but Shakes clearly was shot on pretty cheap film stock, which gives the movie something of a flat and bland quality it can never quite shake. Black levels are fairly deep and rich, and shadow detail seems fine. There aren't a lot of specific flaws I can cite in the image, but the overall look never rises above the "pretty good" level just because the film always seems a bit drab.

For a film of its sort, the Dolby Surround mix of Shakes is pretty good, but one fatal flaw knocks it down to "C"-level: the quality of the dialogue. I found speech to seem intelligible at all times, but it betrayed an awful lot of edginess and distortion. Very few scenes went by without harshness in the dialogue. The effects sounded pretty clear and realistic, however, and while the music lacked much bass, it seemed clean and smooth for the most part.

The film's soundstage sounded surprisingly wide. The front channels displayed a nice range, with lots of audio placed in the side speakers and even some very good panning at times. The rears kicked in pretty frequently with good ambient sound, although the monaural nature of the surrounds could be a problem; I'd hear effective movement from right to left, but then when the audio came to the rear, the effect was harmed because it'd become centered. Still, it's a pretty nice track for this kind of movie, one that's only brought down to mediocrity by some poor voice recording.

Shakes contains a few very bland supplements. We get talent files for Goldthwait, Brown and Sandler; as is usually the case for Columbia-Tristar (CTS) DVDs, these are very brief and generally useless. We also find trailers for Shakes and Sandler's hit Big Daddy. Finally, the DVD's booklet includes short but interesting production notes.

One odd omission on this DVD is the lack of a fullframe transfer. CTS puzzle me, because they'll cram in pan and scan editions of true widescreen films like Stepmom that can barely stand the space because of their length, but then we find a short film like Shakes that only offers mild matting and there's no fullscreen version. I don't have any interest in non-letterboxed images, but a lot of people do, so if there's room, why not include one? Some companies never bother (like Paramount and Fox), but since CTS do so pretty regularly, why isn't there one here?

Shakes the Clown had potential to be a funny and clever exploration of a bizarre clown-oriented alternate universe, but it squanders much of its time with useless jokes about bodily functions. Even its best parts seem less than inspired and the film seems more intent on disturbing the audience than entertaining it. The DVD presents the movie with a good picture but flawed sound and few supplements. Shakes may seem appealing for a variety of reasons, but I'd advise you to skip it.

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