Armed and Dangerous (1986)
Written by Brian Grazer, James Keach, Harold Ramis, and Peter Torokvei
Directed by Mark L. Lester
John Candy was most well known by comedy fans in 1986 from his work on SCTV. The series ran from 1976 through 1984 under the names Second City TV, SCTV Network 90, and finally SCTV Channel. In total, he appeared in almost ninety episodes, and one of his consistent co-stars was fellow Canadian, Eugene Levy. Modern audiences mostly know Levy from his role as Johnny Rose on Schitt’s Creek and if Christopher Guest’s mockumentary comedies. Pairing the two in a feature film at the beginning of their popularity with American audiences sounds like a perfect idea, however Armed and Dangerous didn’t turn out that way.
LAPD officer Frank Dooley (John Candy) is on patrol one night and comes across a robbery at an electronics store. He discovers it’s two of his fellow officers but is holding a stolen television he’s taken from them right after Internal Affairs arrives to bust the crooks. They didn’t know who the officers were but knew there was corruption in the force now blaming it on Dooley. He loses his job and is relegated to private security. Dooley is partnered with Norman Kane (Eugene Levy), a hapless public defender who tries to avoid conflict at all costs. On their first assignment, guarding a pharmaceutical warehouse, Dooley and Kane stumble upon a break-in and fail to stop the crooks. The next day they are blamed for the situation but start to realize it appears to be an inside job. Soon, the duo uncovers a criminal cartel using their private security employers to commit large scale theft and steal employee money.
One of the reasons this movie doesn’t feel right from the start is that it was never written with Candy and Levy. Harold Ramis originally penned the script with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi in mind. After Belushi’s drug overdose death in 1982, the film was abandoned. Producer Brian Grazer wanted to bring the story to the screen, and so John Candy and Tom Hanks were cast as the leads. Hanks had just started to blow up around this time and dropped out due to other commitments, so Candy recommended his good friend Levy.
The problem is that these two comedy performers and writers were never given a chance to do their own rewrite. If Candy and Levy had been able to finetune the script to their personal strengths and chemistry, we could have had a pretty decent comedy on our hands. Instead, audiences did not get to see these performers at the top of their game in a painfully generic film. Harold Ramis disliked the final product so much he lobbied to get his name removed as both a producer and writer but was only able to get the former taken off.
Armed and Dangerous was simply a sloppy retread of other cop comedies of the era like Beverly Hills Cop and Police Academy. The gags in this movie just fall flat, especially a set piece with Candy and Levy hiding out in an adult bookstore and emerging as a drag queen and leather daddy. When stopped by the cops who are looking for them but oblivious due to the disguises, they engage in cringe-inducing “gay lisps” that weren’t funny then and especially feel crude and unwarranted now. It’s especially rough when knowing the rate at which LGBTQ people, especially trans people and sex workers, are brutalized by police annually. The joke appears to be “isn’t it funny seeing these guys look and act like gay stereotypes.”
Like most cop comedies of the day, you have legitimately dangerous villains played by Robert Loggia, and Kenneth MacMillian, aided by henchmen played by Jonathan Banks and Brion James. There’s also a shallow love interest for Levy’s character, played by Meg Ryan. Candy feels woefully miscast as an arrogant, woman ogler. I think the actor’s strength came in his nervous manner when interacting with people, not in false bravado. The only element of the movie I thought was funny was a sudden third act injection of actor Steve Railsback as a crazed truck driver that helps Candy get to the scene of the denouement in time. Armed and Dangerous stands as an example of how Candy should not have been handled, but our next film will be a massive revelation to the public and directors about how they should use the comedian.