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‘Funny Bones’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 28, 1995


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

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"FUNNY BONES," Peter Chelsom's captivating tribute to vaudeville days in Blackpool, England, floats on a cloud of wistful benevolence. From its soaring, opening song (Charles Trenet's winsome ballad, "La Mer") to a finale involving two tottering performers on a vertiginous balancing pole, the movie remains delicately aloft.

"Why do all the best things in life belong to the past?" asks Oliver Platt, who plays aspiring comic Tommy Fawkes, the son of well-known veteran showman George Fawkes (played with all the appropriate ironies by Jerry Lewis). Tommy has just "died" before a Las Vegas audience. Moments before the aspiring funny man came on to perform, his well-known father came onstage, accepted a standing ovation and stole the limelight.

Spiritually crushed, Tommy retreats to Blackpool, the British seaside resort (a humbler, quainter version of Las Vegas) where he spent the first six years of his life. Figuring he can find rebirth in the entertainment capital of northern England, where he remembers every day as sun-splashed and happy, Tommy disguises himself as a theatrical promoter/producer and puts out a call for "funny people" and "original ideas." If he can't come up with his own material, he can buy someone else's.

But the past, Tommy discovers, is a bed of bad secrets rather than roses. The story behind his past becomes clear when Tommy runs into brother-performers Bruno and Thomas Parker (played respectively by Freddie Davies, a real-life stalwart of British variety comedy, and George Carl, a well-known clown), Bruno's former wife Katie (Leslie Caron—still radiant) and Bruno's son Jack (Lee Evans), a wild, raw comedian who seems to be touched with idiocy and talent.

It's hard—and pointless—to give a coherent rendition of what happens. Figuring in the plot, for instance, are a pair of severed feet that wash up on the Blackpool shore (we see how they were disengaged in the opening sequence), a collection of wax eggs containing a life-invigorating powder, and a fussy, effete crime lord (Oliver Reed, cast against type) who's into things Oriental and silky.

"Funny Bones" follows its own swirly course, like something caught in a series of air currents. There's a subtle magic to everything, reminiscent of Chelsom's own "Treacle" and "Hear My Song," and the Scottish fantasies of Bill Forsyth ("Gregory's Girl," "Comfort and Joy" and "Local Hero").

The serendipitous mood of everything is underlined perfectly by the quirky cast. Platt is endearingly nutty and Lewis stagy and perfect. It's also heartwarming to watch the old pros—Davies, Caron and Carl—go to work on their routines. But the real sensation is Evans, a genuinely brilliant comic who suggests a cross between Chaplin and a young John Malkovich. When, as Jack, he lip-syncs to a series of voices recorded from the radio—including a sportscaster announcing a boxing match, a woman leading listeners in breathing exercises and Screaming Jay Hawkins singing "I Put a Spell on You," the performance is sheer genius. In "Funny Bones," wonderful moments like this are plentiful. After enjoying one, you just sit back and wait for the next.

FUNNY BONES (R) — Contains profanity and minor violence

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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