Who’s Harry Crumb? (1989)
Written by Robert Conte & Peter Martin Wortmann
Directed by Paul Flaherty
Certain films are made to challenge the audience’s expectations of an actor or allow them to stretch their acting chops in a new direction. Who’s Harry Crumb? seems like it is that sort of film, existing to give John Candy a chance to play more characters and play a confident idiot. The result is something that, in moments, plays to his strengths but so often falls flat and is ultimately a waste of talent and resources. This was a movie intended to create a new comedy franchise but did so poorly with audiences and critics that it’s become another forgettable 1980s comedic footnote.
Harry Crumb (John Candy) is the latest in a line of master sleuths; however, he doesn’t quite have the intelligence of his predecessors. Harry has been relegated to working in Tulsa, taking photos of philandering spouses when the home office in Los Angeles calls him in. The Crumb & Crumb detective agency’s president Eliot Dreisen (Jeffrey Jones), wants Harry to work on a kidnapping case. Fashion model Jennifer Downing was abducted from a spa, and the kidnappers are asking her wealthy father for millions in ransom. Harry immediately suspects Jennifer’s stepmother, Helen (Annie Potts), and pursues that lead oblivious to the real people behind the abduction. Harry teams with Jennifer’s teenage sister Nikki (Shawnee Smith) in a series of escapades that eventually leading to him accidentally solving the case.
This movie is really painfully unfunny. This was Candy’s first solo affair after some successful co-lead performances in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and The Great Outdoors. The film became a showcase for him alone, and it was not the best effort. That would come a few months later in Uncle Buck, but that’s for my next review. Here we have a movie that is desperate to mimic so many other successful pictures of its time. Who’s Harry Crumb? owes almost everything to films like The Naked Gun, Pink Panther, and Fletch. It cribs so much from these pictures and reveals the lack of quality writing by not doing anything funny when ripping off such entertaining films.
The comedy consists of three elements: slapstick, disguises, and a dumb detective. The last one is sometimes able to elicit chuckles, but the first two drag this movie down. The slapstick is one-note and can be summed up as “fat man fall down, laugh.” There’s nothing inventive or ingenious about these sight gags, save once when Harry gets his necktie caught in a paper shredder and even then it’s only worth a small laugh because the director doesn’t do anything with it.
The worst part is the disguises, which are mostly just embarrassingly offensive. When Harry goes to investigate the spa, he dresses up like a Hungarian hairdresser. Then he must infiltrate an apartment building, so he shows up as a caricatured Indian repairman. The movie’s final joke is Harry getting a call to solve a murder that took place in a gay bar and emerging from his office in drag. There are only two get-ups that aren’t offensive, and one of them, Harry disguised as a jockey at the racetrack, is completely wasted. Instead, it’s another “laugh cause he’s fat” joke where the detective gets stuck in a tiny jockey-sized phone booth.
I just found Who’s Harry Crumb? to be completely uninspired and unfunny. The actors can’t be blamed for this because I’ve seen them all do well in other films and shows. This script and this director are to be blamed for what we see on the screen. This is Paul Flaherty, brother of SCTV alum Joe, who directed segments on that show as well as Primetime Glick, which is a personal favorite of mine, but another instance of so many jokes being “laugh at the fat man for being fat.” You had good ingredients, but the flaws had not been worked out, so the final product is something painfully bad.