Johnny Dangerously (1984)

Rating: C+

Dir: Amy Heckerling
Star: Michael Keaton, Joe Piscopo, Marilu Henner, Griffin Dunne

This gently-amusing pastiche of 30’s gangster cliches, sees Johnny Kelly (Keaton) turn to crime as a young kid, to help pay for the medical expenses of his mother. He falls for showgirl Lil (Henner), dodges the bullets of amusingly foul-mouthed rival Roman Moronie (“You furgin’ icehole!”), and rises to become the leader of the gang. That brings him the ire of childhood rival Danny Vermin (Piscopo), with whom he has been knocking heads since they were both paper-boys. Worse still, his kid brother Tommy (Dunne), goes through law school, becomes the Assistant DA, and vows to bring down the man in charge of the Chicago underworld.

He is completely unaware of his sibling’s rise to illicit glory, apparently being the only person in the neighbourhood who doesn’t know the true identity of “Johnny Dangerously” – up to and including the Pope. As a result, Johnny ends up on death-row, convicted of a murder actually committed by Vermin. Can the truth be revealed before Dangerously has to take the long walk, just like his daddy did? At least initially, this feels like a Naked Gun film, with a similar approach of inventive absurdity. Piscopo steals his scenes, armed as he with his Magnum .88 – “It shoots through schools,” he proudly proclaims – and a series of dire warnings, such as his one to the hero: “You shouldn’t grab me, Johnny. My mother grabbed me once. Once!”

However, the script undeniably runs out of steam in the second half, becoming not much more than example of what it’s parodying, and some aspects are almost as outdated now as the genre it lampoons, such as the Schlitz Malt Liquor bull: we had to pause the film, while Chris explained that to me. However, there are still just enough amusing moments to stop the film from imploding from a light souffle, into a sodden lump of pastry and just about manages to skare by on Keaton’s boyish charm and impish charisma. Overall, it’s probably worth viewing once. Once!