Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: Clifford
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: Smart, hyperactive and dangerous 10-year-old Clifford (Martin Short) has a lifelong dream: to visit the Dinosaur World theme park, no matter what it takes to get there. Luckily, his Uncle Martin (Charles Grodin) has agreed to take him in an effort to impress his girlfriend who doesn’t believe he has any desire to have kids. But when Martin suddenly reneges on his promise, Clifford hatches a devious plan to get even and teach his uncle a lesson.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Clifford was a critical and box office failure, making only $7.4 million and earning a half-star review from Roger Ebert. What else would you expect from a film that sat on a shelf for a few years when Orion Pictures was in rough financial waters? But for me, Clifford is an obnoxious, oddball comedy that works better than most give it credit for, and it’s all because of how Charles Grodin and Martin Short make such fantastic foils for each other.
As a kid, I remember being fascinated and confused by Clifford because of how it featured a 40-year old Martin Short playing a 10-year old boy. And as I watched, I found myself cracking up at the physical comedy and boyish performance of Short, bringing a maniacal innocence somewhere between The Good Son and Dennis the Menace. On the other end of the spectrum, there was the dry, increasingly unstable and cranky Charles Grodin giving some of the best deadpan line deliveries of all time. It’s a testament to how great of a comedic actor Grodin was, even when he was working with truly ridiculous material.
Clifford has the vibe of a movie that The Lonely Island or Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett of Saturday Night Live might make today. It’s totally unbelievable, madcap, and just plain goofy, bringing with it the comedic instincts of SCTV writer Paul Flaherty, who would go on to work with Martin Short on Primetime Glick. There’s a reason this movie was recently highlighted by Turner Classic Movies and has earned a cult following over the years. Just look at this scene:
Between “You touch the dinosaur, I’m gonna kill you,” and Martin Short’s attempts at being a normal boy, this scene is a laugh riot. If you don’t get it, then maybe this movie just isn’t for you, but if you find yourself enjoying this clip, just give this movie a chance, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Plus, I think you’ll be impressed by the practical effects used in a climactic scene that actually takes place at the famous Dinosaur World theme park mentioned in the clip above.
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