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A FISH CALLED WANDA ($25) is a film whose hilarity knows no bounds. This film is an atypical English caper comedy that deploys American sensibilities, which made it a crossover hit here in the United States. A FISH CALLED WANDA stars John Cleese as Archie Leach (Cary Grant's real name), an all too proper British barrister who inadvertently becomes involved with a gang of thieves, after taking on the defense of their captured leader. Jamie Lee Curtis portrays Wanda; the mastermind's supposed girlfriend, who is actually part of the double cross that got him arrested after a big diamond heist.

Kevin Kline won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Otto West. Otto is Wanda's jealous boyfriend, who poses as her brother (and former CIA operative), so he can secure a position as the weapons’ man on the heist. Kline's Oscar win for this performance is richly deserved- he is totally hilarious and manages to steal scenes from the very capable Monty Python alumni. Speaking of the Monty Python alumni, Michael Palin portrays Ken, the final member of the gang of thieves and the only one still faithful to their jailed leader. Palin's performance as the animal loving Ken had me laughing uncontrollably. Ken is given the task of bumping off an old woman- the only witness to the to the jewel heist. Unfortunately, Ken repeatedly misses his mark and winds up snuffing out the woman's pet dogs. Watching Ken nonchalantly try and kill the old lady in a manner fit for Roadrunner cartoons is funny enough, but when he bursts into hysterics over the mangled doggies, my bladder was straining.

John Cleese, along with director Charles Crichton wrote the extremely funny screenplay for A FISH CALLED WANDA. Like most caper movies, double crosses abound in A FISH CALLED WANDA as the characters vie for the hidden loot. However, it is the film's seduction scenes that prove the most memorable. In the film, Wanda gets off on men who speak Italian and Otto's hilarious massacre of the language is something one isn't likely to forget. A perfect counterpoint to that scene is Archie's Russian strip monologue, which proves even more unforgettable.

MGM Home Entertainment has made A FISH CALLED WANDA available on DVD in both wide screen and full screen presentations. The full screen version looks as unimpressive as any cable airing of the film. However, the wide screen version, while unremarkable, is a noticeable improvement. A FISH CALLED WANDA has not been given a 16:9 anamorphic enhanced transfer, so the standard 4:3 Letterboxed image only succeeds in recreating the film's 1.85:1 theatrical framing. While the wide screen presentation is most film like and dramatic presentation ever afforded to A FISH CALLED WANDA, the transfer itself is only average. Film grain could be detected in one or two brief places and the film element itself showed a couple of minor blemishes, but nothing too severe. The transfer offers respectable detail and color reproduction, but I'm sure A FISH CALLED WANDA could have been made to look better had the film been issued as a special edition. Digital compression artifacts never made the presence known on the DVD.

Like the visuals, the Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is less than impressive. The sound is clean and clear, but it isn't what one would call high fidelity. Fortunately, the track is comprised primarily of dialogue and the jokes are always intelligible. A French language soundtrack has also been encoded into the DVD, as have English and French subtitles.

The interactive menus are somewhat animated and contain a bit of sound. Though the menus one can access the standard scene and language selection features, plus a theatrical trailer. An animated screen saver for you television is also part of the menu system. The screen saver turns your monitor into a virtual fish tank in which a fish called Wanda swims.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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