Noises Off! (1992) — Go backstage at an imploding play

“Lucky thing I can’t see far, with this leg!”

PoolMan’s rating: 4 out of 5 plates of sardines! Worth a rent with a group of folks who appreciate the theater, or who just like to laugh.

PoolMan’s review: At first glance, Noises Off! may seem a little light material for Mutant Reviewers, but this is one of the funniest unknown comedies I have ever seen. Based on the real life British sex farce Nothing On, Noises Off! takes a look at a pressed-for-time cast of loser actors trying to make their way into the big show at Broadway. However, with no time to rehearse, a constantly short-handed staff, and a cast of fools, including a deaf boozer, a forgotten starlet, a semi-blind bombshell, and one plain old idiot (okay, more than one), one often wonders how on Earth they might do it.

Well, thanks to their oversexed Shakespearean director, it always seems to hold together… just. The movie gets really interesting when, after having seen the first act in rehearsal the way it’s supposed to go, the audience is treated to the feuding going on behind the scenes between the different love triangles that pop up during performance.

This is a great ensemble cast, including Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve (in what *I* think was one of his best roles he ever did before his accident), John Ritter (a MUST for Three’s Company fans), Carol Burnett, and more. This movie is all about timing, both offstage and on, and this group clicks in a way that you just have to see to believe. The comedy is hilarious. It may not reach everyone, but I howled most of the way through it.

The only reason this wouldn’t get a perfect mark is that the dialogue, no matter how it gets mangled around, is based on a British play, and is being done largely by Americans doing Brit accents. You tend to hear the same (or similar) dialogue a few times in the multiple times you witness the first act. Don’t get me wrong, it ain’t boring, it just doesn’t stay quite as fresh as it should have. But there are some classic one-liners!

Andie’s rating: 5 out of 5 plates of sardines

Andie’s review: Okay, in terms of actual times I laugh out loud, this movie is the funniest movie I have ever seen. The fact that I have been involved in theater makes it that much funnier to me, but I think anyone can enjoy this wacky comedy.

The premise is play-within-a-play, so each actor has their character in the movie and their character that they portray in the play. A company of actors are putting on a play called Nothing On, while the movie is really divided into three acts. The first act shows their final dress rehearsal in Des Moines, Iowa. This act is important because it establishes who the people are and how the play is supposed to go. The second act shows the troupe about six weeks down the road in Miami Beach, when stuff is starting to unravel. All we see is what goes on behind the scenery during the play. Finally, the third act shows the troupe six months down the road in Cleveland when everything is going wrong.

I know it doesn’t sound that funny, but it truly is. And it has an all-star cast, headed by Carol Burnett as the aging starlet Dotty. It includes Marilu Henner as Belinda the cast gossip, Christopher Reeve as Freddy the simpleton, Michael Caine as Lloyd the crusty old director, Nicolette Sheridan as Brooke the young beautiful ditz, and John Ritter as Gary, who does some of the best physical comedy I’ve ever seen.

Noises Off! is a movie that can be viewed again and again and just might inspire someone to get involved in live theater. Or it might send them running for the hills. Either way, this movie is a riot.

Justin’s rating: You’d have to understand the concept of non-imaginary imaginary numbers to comprehend my rating scale

Justin’s review: Theater has often befuddled me. It’s supposed to be this great peak of civilized art, something that only the well-educated and refined individuals can truly appreciate. Something that is so magnificent that women have gotten pregnant and given birth during the performance due to the sheer par excellence that is displayed. And I just don’t get it. I mean, theater ain’t bad, but when it comes straight down to the question of “How much did this entertain me?” I’ll take mutant tomatoes rampaging on the west coast over a depressed kid talking to a skull any day of the week.

It’s always easy to spot a movie based (closely) on a play. The film adaptation carries many of the same characteristics, such as fast and somewhat unnatural dialogue, continuous slapstick comedy, and people waving their arms around enough to make me wonder if we didn’t evolve from pigeons after all. Noises Off! begins in this style. We get to see both the play and behind the scenes of that play, actors making a strong case for the duality of man as they revert back and forth from their stage characters to their movie characters.

The movie is played out in three distinct acts; the first being the dress rehearsal (where they get more right than wrong), the second being behind stage during a performance (where cast tensions begin to degrade the play), and the third being the disastrous Cleveland performance (where absolutely everything goes wrong on stage). As plays are wont to do, the first act is mainly setup for later jokes and developments. We learn who has a problem with their contacts, who’s a boozer, who is sleeping with whom, and what exactly is the deal with sardines anyway? Michael Caine as the director under siege gets the choicest role, mentally falling apart along with his play.

It’s in act two where the laughs begin (I can’t remember smiling much during the first 40 minutes or so). It’s got this momentum going between a dozen plot points, building up, going faster and faster toward explosion. At times two characters would be fighting on the lower part of the stage and two others trying to fix a door on the upper part, and I’d be torn between watching the two. And then I remembered the “rewind” button on my remote and laughed a hearty laugh. I appreciate good Three Stooges slapstick like anyone else (except my friend Bob, whose sense of humor only extends to laughing at a mistake during an orchestral version of Bach), but two solid hours is stretching it. Yet… they never push too far.

Once it picks up the pace, Noises Off! is pure entertainment to the very end. When one of the characters accidentally got a phone cord stuck on her leg and ended up dragging the phone off stage with her, I got into a (manly) giggling fit at the sight of a moving phone. See, that probably doesn’t strike you funny right now, reading it, but it’s one of those cases where you needed to be there five inches from the TV screen. So be there.

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