The other night I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” again on television. This is a wonderful film because it has plenty of characters, each with an important role in the overall story. The action also comes together to serve the plot purposes; there’s nothing unnecessary that made it into the final cut.
Everything that happens in “It’s a Wonderful Life” has a reason and, by the end, all of it comes together to convey a message.
Everything in “It’s a Wonderful Life” that makes it great works against “Mixed Nuts,” an inane new “holiday” film.
There’s too much going on in “Mixed Nuts.” Characters come and go, reality is stretched for a joke and events occur not out of the logic of the plot, but out of the logic that if a fantastic situation is created, a few jokes can be milked from it and then the initial problem can be forgotten and discarded.
This, however, does not work, and the hilarious product anticipated by the filmmakers is missing.
By the end of the film there is literally a crowd of characters, most having already served their comedic purpose, who are now useless relics of unfunny jokes centered around them. Once the initial joke that they were a component of has passed, there is no new material of significance that would keep that character from being dead weight.
The story centers around the zany adventures of two employees and the founder of Lifesavers, a suicide hotline. There’s the director, Phillip (Steve Martin), who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and lost the lease for the Lifesavers office. The two employees are Catherine (Rita Wilson), who has the hots for Phillip, and Mrs. Munchnik (Madeline Kahn), a sarcastic woman who would seem ill-suited for her type of work. They get a variety of calls from suicidal clients and also get caught up in trying to solve the problems of a young couple.
As the lead, Martin goes through his usual motions, good physical comedy and humorous facial expressions, but here he is not given enough to work with and also seems tired: He’s just doing his usual performance. While it still is funny, there is not enough manic spontaneity to make it memorable.
Wilson is good in her supporting role and shows promise for more worthwhile roles. But most of the other costars, including Juliet Lewis, overact drastically and damage the film considerably.
This film is a failure in all categories, except for a few minor moments where it may invoke the faintest flicker of a smile. But those moments are far too scarce with only sitcom-quality humor.
By the end, there are too many unfinished subplots and extraordinary coincidences, making this a truly awful movie.