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Splitting Heirs

No Award
1993

‘…there’s genuinely not a laugh in it, and some of the cultural assumptions are offensive without being amusing…’

Eric Idle struck sparks as part of the Monty Python team, and his solo ventures, the Rutland Weekend television show and The Rutles mockumentry, are riddled with super-sharp, anarchic gags. So it’s hard to see how the mighty could fall so hard as to create 1993 dud Splitting Heirs, which aims to fall somewhere between Kind Hearts and Cornets and A Fish Called Wanda, but ends up making you check your own pulse to see if you’re still alive. The Pythons had a famously combative relationship, but it’s clear from their later work that they held each other’s worst comic impulses in check; Splitting Heirs shows Idle in his most uninspired form.

In the usual Merrie England setting, two boys are born and switched; an ancient set-up that delivers ancient jokes. Henry (imported star Rick Moranis) becomes the Duke of Buckinghamshire, while Tommy is raised as an adopted son by a humble Hindu family in that feels like a riff on The Jerk but also a rubbishing of George Harrison’s beliefs. A meeting with shady lawyer Raoul P Shadgrind (John Cleese) reveals Tommy’s true destiny, but to ascend to his rightful place, he’ll have to kill off the impostor who enjoys the riches Tommy dreams of.

There are novelties here for sure; any film that starts with Rick Moranis roller-skating past Eric Sykes has to engage on some level. Barbara Hershey and Catherine Zeta Jones add some glamour, but there’s genuinely not a laugh in it, and some of the cultural assumptions are offensive without being amusing.

I’m not sure why I’m driven to watch such bad comedies, particularly during a worldwide crisis. The names involved attract, and yet there’s also a strange fascination in watching comic greats flounder with sub-standard material. Splitting Heirs is a pretty awful film, made by people who have made stone-cold comedy classics; perhaps I’m searching for vestiges of that greatness, or maybe there’s some pathos to be found in the fall of a sparrow. Either way, this is a film for bad movie fans only, and easy to advise the unwary; just say nope.

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  1. Monty Python is a bit like the Ramones in artistic fantasy. I always imagined them to be brilliantly welded together kindred souls who could enhance and riff one another’s qualities until something superhuman was birthed. And at times it sure seemed like that, perhaps there were times when it actually happened, but the reality is–and possibly it’s more encouraging–they worked hard and through massive personal difficulties with one another. I remember hearing about Cleese fighting with the guys about Chapman being Brian in Life of Brian solely because he wanted to be that actor for the part and I remember thinking it was kind of dickish . . . but later you realize that was how they actually were with one another . . . then flash forward to the many misuses of these talents . . . Idle is of particular concern I think, Nuns on the Run hurts to think about, and Idle was one of my utter favorites for his twinkle-eyed lunacy in many of the remarkably silly verbal skits. There are many lessons embedded in following these careers, but frankly seeing those fellows just collecting the checks is rather painful. Incidentally the Ramones were not really a band of equivalent neanderthal talents brilliantly sparking one another’s genius (though possibly at times), they were much more a committee headed by a tyrant who eventually had to be abandoned. Ouch.
    So much to think about in these films and careers! Especially with actors and talents we especially love!

    • Palin’s diaries do provide some insight into the infighting. It’s clear that he didn’t fancy most of the Python’s solo projects. Like many bands, the amazing thing is not that they split up, but that they came together and worked together in the first place. Idle made some classic comedy, but no-one’s mojo lasts forever, and some of this movie is desperate stuff. Do like the Ramones!

  2. I like Moranis. Spaceballs, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Ghostbusters. All jewels on the cinematic stage 😀

    So for a movie to not have one laugh with him in it sounds really bad. That being said, who do you blame? I’m guessing the actors don’t have any say in the script, so does all the blame go on the writers? Is it the directors fault or the actors, or somebody else? There are so many parts to a movie that assigning blame for a movie being bad is a full time job. Personally, I blame the writers and idea people first. Then I move down to the director/s (I mean, look at what Lucas did to the Star Wars prequels, sigh). Finally, I’ll blame the actors. But it takes a lot for me to do that.

    The Python crew can go jump though. Whether as a group or individually. I am NOT a fan of them….

    • Yup, I think in this instance it’s the writer and stay Eric Idle who gets the blame. I like Moranis, but he’s clearly third or fourth choice for this role. Talent wasted here, Pythonist or not…

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