' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...So I Married an Axe Murderer

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Some Drivel On...So I Married an Axe Murderer

Mike Myers followed up his ultra-successful “Wayne’s World” (1992) with “So I Married an Axe Murderer” (1993), which proved less profitable, raking in a relatively scant 11.5 million at the box office and finishing nine spots behind “Body of Evidence” and five spots behind “Weekend at Bernie’s II.” On home video, though, it found an audience and became something of a cult classic, not unlike the two movies it was wedged between in those box office dregs – “True Romance” and “Army of Darkness.” Maggie Serota recounted this rags-to-riches-ish story for the movie’s 25th anniversary in Spin where she noted its lack of critical acclaim too, parenthetically citing Roger Ebert’s two-and-a-half star review. I wouldn’t necessarily deem “So I Married an Axe Murderer” mediocre, as Ebert did, but nor would I necessarily deem it “fantastic,” as Serota does. As I often do anymore, I land somewhere in-between, drawn less to Ebert’s opening review line than his closing one – that Myers likes roles of “Eccentrics trapped in worlds that are seemingly normal, yet secretly more bizarre even than their fantasies.” Myers’s next movie, “Austin Powers,” was in a sense sort of an inverse of this observation, its time-traveling 60s English spy normal for his time and place but rendered an eccentric in the normal modern world. And that might be why I’ve always preferred “So I Married an Axe Murderer” a little more, the way the real world feels just off-kilter, which ostensibly is what the emergent axe murderer subplot is supposed to tie into. Yet, for all the delightful comic eccentricities and eccentrics that Myers surrounds himself with, the primary problem is, well, him. 

Myers is Charlie MacKenzie, a San Franciscan commitment-phobe who, in a nod to his Scottish roots, buys some Haggis for a family gathering from a comely butcher named Harriet (Nancy Travis) with whom he becomes so smitten he seems like maybe, just maybe, he’ll remain committed for the first time in his life. Alas, he begins to fear she’s an axe murderer and there goes that. It’s neat idea, a comical amplification of his fear of intimacy that feels true to anyone greatest’s anxiety. It’s not so much this plotline trending toward an obvious payoff, because a little filmmaking knowhow can polish that up, as how the plotline becomes a victim of tonal imbalance. The more absurd, the better, because the real attempts at this relationship’s sincerity, conveyed predominantly through lovey-dovey montages and a few earnest attempts by Myers at earnestness, fall flat. The character’s commitment-phobia, in the end, simply does not feel baked into the performance, no matter how much Travis gamely tries in these moments to reel it out of him, and so Myers’s attempts at a Billy Crystal kind of turn come up short, perhaps suggesting why he never really tried it again and instead leaned into the excess of “Austin Powers.”

He is more successful in the coffeehouse scenes where he performs spoken word poems set to music about recent break-ups. That Charlie seems to have no job feels less like some narrative oversight than spot-on, a 90s version of a 50s Beat poet, just hanging out at the coffeehouse and whining about women, milking his mastery of vocal exaggeration (“Wo-MAN”) to fine effect. His vocal exaggeration is even better in his dual role playing Charlie’s much more loutish father Stuart, turning simple boisterous declarations like “Shut it!” into bellicose poetry. The character is also a proud Scottish immigrant, evoked in his Scottish Wall of Fame a la Sal’s Pizzeria Italian-American Wall of Fame in “Do the Right Thing,” and the way he and Brenda Fricker, playing Stuart’s wife and Charlie’s mom Mary, fall into a little arm in arm dance to the Bay City Rollers’ (pride of Edinburgh) “Saturday Night” demonstrates the kind of amusing, romantic warmth that Myers cannot evince as Charlie. Stuart’s best friend Tony Giardino (Anthony LaPaglia), meanwhile, is nothing less than a whole detective movie send-up packaged into a subplot. 

The conclusion, in which Tony journeys through northern California by any means necessary to warn Stuart, is a virtual promenade of cameos, from Steven Wright as a frighteningly casual plane pilot to national treasure Charles Grodin as a bad Samaritan. These cameos epitomize the bizarre world Ebert was noting, but also illustrate just how committed “So I Married an Axe Murderer” is to a comic bit above all else. A scene set on Alcatraz seems to exist to haul the camera out to Alcatraz and show it off since you’re shooting a movie in San Francisco, yes, but also to give space for Phil Hartman, playing a tour guide, to do this Phil Hartman thing. He’s so deep into character he hardly acknowledges Myers and LaPaglia at all. He really comes across like a guy who’s been on Alcatraz all his life. Maybe that’s why I found myself thinking not about Mike Myers’s new Netflix series “The Pentaverate,” based off a few lines of dialogue in “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” but a multiverse movie in which it turns out Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) took “The Rock” hostage when Hartman’s Ranger John Johnson (everyone here calls me Vicki) was leading the tour rather than Ranger Bob (Raymond O’Connor) and leading to a rescue attempt not by Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and John Mason (Sean Connery) but Vickie, Tony Giardino, and a very reluctant Charlie MacKenzie. That would have been something else. 

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