Thursday 3 May 2012

Obscurity Files - Doctor Detroit

You know Dan Aykroyd, right? Lovely, wholesome Dan Aykroyd? Can you imagine him playing a pimp with a metal hand and a name that makes about as much sense as his decision to make Blues Brothers 2000? Well, Aykroyd doesn't care what you think. He went and did it any way.

Don't be fooled by that funny, clever and rather brilliantly stupid trailer. Doctor Detroit is a baaaaaad movie. This was back in 1983, shortly after Aykroyd had left Saturday Night Live and was trying on new comedy characters for size. Here he plays the mild mannered Clifford Skridlow, forced to take on a secret identity to protect a group of kindly hookers from the criminal genius known as Mom.

There's a scene at the start of the movie where bad guy Smooth, facing an interrogation from bad guy Mom, invents a false crime overlord using information gleamed off the walls and nearby objects, in the fashion of The Usual Suspects but ten years before Kevin Spacey did it. However, instead of coming up with one of cinemas greatest bad guys like Keyser Soze, he instead creates the nonsensical sounding Doctor Detroit. Spotting Aykroyd's hapless loser in an Indian restaurant, he makes his gaggle of prostitutes take him on a night on the town, eventually persuading him to become Doctor Detroit in exchange for all the parties and guilty sex he can manage.

It's basically the Nutty Professor with 'Doctor Detroit' being Dan Aykroyd's own version of the nihilistic Buddy Love. As comedy creations go, this actually manages to be worse than Aykroyd's crusty old judge Alvin Valkenheiser in his car crash directorial debut Nothing But Trouble. Juggling his new life as a pimp with his old life as a professor of chivalry (what?), he decides a disguise is in order to protect his identity.

Donning a bad wig, a peculiar snarl and (quite bizarrely and unexplainably) a metal gauntlet that he wears over his right hand, Clifford Skridlow's alter ego soon becomes a formidable presence in the underworld, without actually doing anything to warrant it. But then, given that the Doctor's main rival is a dowdy 60 year old woman called Mom, it wouldn't take much for Skridlow to rule those streets.

It might seem odd to over-analyse such a ridiculous comedy concept, but it makes no sense as to why Skridlow would want to take on this persona. Yes, his harum of 80's beauties may include future The Nanny star Fran Drescher and future wife of Dan Aykroyd and dream woman of Garth Algar, Donna Dixon, but why would he want to get involved with them? As life destroying alter ego's go, Doctor Detroit gives Tyler Durden a run for his money. This film may also have the most pointless tag line of the 1980's. "He's making the world safe for insanity". What does that even mean? If the film has one redeeming feature, it's the gloriously 80's Devo theme song that doesn't deserve to be attached to such a crapfest as Doctor Detroit.

In the grand tradition of cheesy American sitcoms and Mrs Doubtfire, the finale involves Aykroyd attending two parties in the same building at the same time, switching outfits as he runs through the kitchens. Why do kitchen staff ever say anything when people invade their work environment like that? Throw in an impromptu dance routine and an appearance by James Brown, and you've got yourself the strangest scene a film about prostitution has ever had.

Don't get me wrong, I love me a bit of Dan Aykroyd, but he's at his best when he's a supporting player. It's clear that he wanted to succeed so badly as a comic leading man, but with vehicles like this, no wonder that never really happened. Thank god they never produced the sequel that was threatened in the closing credits. Sorry Dan, not this time.

Save from obscurity? NO.

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