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So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993)

by on 2010/10/08

For a long time — particularly since the early Nineties — Beat culture has fascinated me.  What drew me in?  The siren songs of jazz, the smoky cafes, the poetry readings.  Like proto-goth for spies, those romantic late night rendezvous brought out the literate, the lawless, and the occasional femme fatale.

So I Married An Axe Murderer is an early Nineties mining of that era.  It doesn’t recreate the Fifties, instead lifting selected “revival” elements to highlight this comic romance.  Like Jim Carrey’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this modest film succeeds in legitimizing a star better known for over-the-top antics.  It rarely plays straight, yet still feels like Mike Myers’ (Wayne’s World) most honest effort to date.

Set in San Francisco (a city which seems to evoke itself less than it does other movies, including Vertigo, Bullitt, and Dirty Harry), the film follows Charlie (Myers), an aspiring poet with a Seinfeldian aversion to commitment.  He finds, or imagines, flaws in every woman he dates for a long enough time:  he’s certain one was a thief; another was probably a mobster; a third smelled of soup.  His friend Tony (Anthony LaPaglia) worries about him, but things seem to improve when Charlie meets Harriet (Nancy Travis), a local butcher.  Complications arise, however, when Charlie begins to see connections between Harriet and a black widow murderer profiled in the Weekly World News.  The trouble with Charlie is he’s the boy who always cries wolf, and this time no one believes him.  Admittedly it’s a modest narrative in scope and ambition, but what’s done is done well.  The execution is workmanlike overall but the decoration, if you will, makes it exceptional.

The most obvious strength is the cast.  Even if you’re not a particular fan of Myers in brash mode (as Charlie’s father, Stuart) or reined-in (as Charlie himself), there are dozens more gems to uncover, particularly the cameos.  Among them:  Alan Arkin (Glengarry Glen Ross) as an over-sensitive police chief, Charles Grodin (Midnight Run) as a commandeered driver, the late great Phil Hartman (The Simpsons) as a disturbing prison tour guide, Michael Richards (UHF) as an insensitive eulogist, and Steven Wright (Canadian Bacon) as a sleepy pilot.  Even the main cast have their moments of strange hilarity:  Tony’s idea of a “hip” disguise, the amorous advances of Charlie’s mother, Rose’s evocation of a Single White Female, and poor mute William, whose interminable suffering is only mitigated by his obliviousness.

It’s not all oddity though.  Vignettes of the main relationship stand in contrast to the quirk:  affecting, awkward, and genuine.  The nervous first date game of truth or dare (which foreshadows the Austin Powers pronunciation of “evil”), the shifting dynamics of a double date, and the panicky back-pedalling to undo a couple-fight.  The characterization of Charlie as a poet also makes sense given the writers’ penchant for punning (the “cup-o-ccino”, being “in deep smit”, and his fears of a “cleaving”).

There are even some cinematic pretensions to join the literary variety.  An early scene evokes the unbroken opening shot of Goodfellas.  The trolley and other transitions recall the Star Wars series wipes.  And of course, what could be more Vertigo than being set in San Francisco?  A dolly zoom, of course.  Such devices can be used to the extent that they may grate.  For example, over the course of the movie, I counted at least four plays of the La’s song “There She Goes”, four (highly similar) spoken word performances, and three montage sequences, plus the mentioned parade of cameos, which some may find distracting.

More serious, however, are a limited number of bits that just don’t work.  In some cases I can imagine what was intended, but the result is an unfortunate disruption of the story’s pace and flow, especially near the end.  Alan Arkin’s final scene, while amusing, was simply one too many.  Tony’s interrogation of Harriet, though funny on the page, doesn’t work in practice.  Finally, groin injuries may be hilarious to the single-digit set, but that’s not the audience here and, in this case, weren’t executed in a way that got by on originality.

Ultimately there’s little point in my even pretending to be unbiased.  I have a soft spot which trumps any clear-eyed recognition that this movie — never worse than average — is built on the banal.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and so on.  “Girl may kill boy” is its most original trick.  So I Married An Axe Murderer never becomes more than the sum of its parts, but those parts are many, varied, and memorable.  Seventeen years and counting, they’ve kept me coming back.  Like an Ocean’s movie that swaps a heist for screwball slapstick, you’ll watch it less to see how it ends than to visit a group of old friends.  Besides, on a site where The Wrong Guy can pick up five stars, this deserves at least four.

* * * *

Rated PG-13 for language, nudity, and violence

93 minutes

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