Movies & Videos
Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

    Related Item
‘Funny Bones’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 28, 1995


Peter Chelsom
Oliver Platt;
Jerry Lewis;
Lee Evans;
Leslie Caron;
George Carl;
Freddie Davies
Under 17 restricted

Marketplace Online Shopping

Compare prices
for this movie

Find local video stores
WP yellowpages
More movie shopping

Save money with NextCard Visa

In his feature debut, "Hear My Song," British director Peter Chelsom showed a unique affinity for the lower rungs of the show biz pecking order. The big time, where people of proven talent and audience appeal perform in glamorous venues, is not nearly so interesting to him as the novelty fringe, where colorful small-timers struggle to eke out a living.

In "Funny Bones," his spirited and hilariously eccentric look at a young comic trying to crawl out of the shadow of his famous comedian father, Chelsom returns to the show biz margins. The result is rich, funny and, despite its darker moments, endearing.

The picture begins in Las Vegas where Tommy Fawkes (Oliver Platt) is about to make his casino debut. Naturally, his mother and his father—the superstar clown George Fawkes (Jerry Lewis)—are in the audience. But when the club emcee acknowledges their presence in the crowd, the old ham can't resist climbing onstage to soak up his standing ovation and do a quick few minutes.

Naturally, Tommy, who has rather a black temperament to begin with, is devastated. How can he possibly follow this beloved legend, who has even managed in his brief few minutes at the mike to steal a couple of his son's best lines?

He can't, and not only does his routine bomb, it bombs on a nuclear scale, provoking Tommy to disappear to the seaside town of Blackpool, England. Arriving incognito in the disguise of a talent scout, Tommy begins spreading the word around this former mecca for comedians that he is looking for new material. He doesn't care what it is—though he prefers physical comedy—he wants to see it, and if it's funny, he wants to purchase the act in order to make himself a star.

Under Chelsom's sharp but self-effacing direction, this early part of the film moves briskly. However, the story veers in an unexpected direction when Tommy meets Jack (the remarkable Lee Evans), an astounding physical comic and mime almost on par with the great silent movie clowns. As it turns out, though, Jack is a little damaged. Uneducated and perhaps even mentally impaired, Jack is probably the funniest man in all of Great Britain. Unfortunately, due to a tragic accident in which he flipped out and killed a man during his act, Jack is forbidden to perform in public.

Plus there is another twist: Years ago, it seems, Tommy's father spent time in Blackpool, working with a pair of variety stars (played by two of England's most revered vaudevillians, George Carl and Freddie Davies). As Tommy eventually learns, his father's early days there were hardly wasted. Not only did he pilfer the duo's act, he also had an affair with another performer (played by Leslie Caron) that creates the movie's ultimate surprise.

"Funny Bones"—which was written by Chelsom and Peter Flannery—tells an intricate, multilayered story and its curious puzzle-box quality keeps you off balance and guessing. Not all of it works: In particular, there is a subplot—involving an underworld kingpin (Oliver Reed) and a cache of wax eggs filled with a Chinese concoction—that seems entirely out of place.

But there are so many first-rate performances here that the glitches seem inconsequential. As Tommy, Platt ("Flatliners," "Indecent Proposal") is far more formidable and charismatic than he has been in the past—and funnier. Evans, who as Jack is making the transition from stand-up to acting here, may be even more revelatory, especially during his insanely inspired skits.

If Carl and Davies had just about any other star opposite them, they might have walked away with the picture. In the movie's parlance, their gifts are genetic, God-given; they have funny bones. Still, though he has only a relatively short time on screen, the movie belongs to Lewis. His performance here is as complex and gratifying as any he has ever given, including his work in "The King of Comedy" and on TV's "Wiseguy." Even when he's not on screen, his presence is dominating.

Funny Bones, at area theaters, is rated R.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top

Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar