It’s an odd coincidence the same day Ivan Reitman passes away, a Super Bowl commercial airs starring Eugene Levy as an action star. Levy had appeared in Cannibal Girls, a horror comedy that was Reitman’s first movie as a director.
Born in Czechoslovakia in the post-WWII era the son of Jewish Hungarians, his mother had survived Auschwitz and his father was a resistance fighter. So, it was natural in his blood that Reitman would have a sense of fighting back against the authority. His family immigrated to Canada as refugees when he was 4.
He worked in Toronto in local TV before helping produce David Cronenberg’s movies, Shivers and Rabid. According to the documentary Drunk, Stone, Brilliant, Dead about National Lampoon, he found it hard to communicate with notable comics such as Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and John Belushi. While working on The National Lampoon Comedy Hour, Murray reportedly kindly but abruptly escorted him out of the recording studio when Reitman made suggestions no one liked.
But he would go on to produce National Lampoon’s Animal House, an icon of irreverent comedy, as well as work with Murray three more times over five years with Meatballs, Stripes and Ghostbusters. And these movies made Reitman the hippest comedy director of the time.
He went on to collaborate with Arnold Schwarzenegger several times with Twins, Kindergarten Cop and Junior. Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest action stars at the time, so if you’re going to put him in a comedy, put him in the hands of a good comedy director.
But his best work in my opinion is Dave, a Frank Capra-esque movie in which Kevin Kline plays a lowly community organizer who happens to be the exact double of the current President (also played by Kline), whose facing a big scandal about that’s about to break. Hired to do a literal walk-on when the President sneaks away for an office affair, Dave finds himself acting as President when the Commander-in-Chief suffers a stroke, but the Chief of Staff (Frank Langella) doesn’t want the Vice-President (Ben Kingsley) taking over. Instead, the goal is to pass the blame to the VEEP, so the Chief can be replaced as VEEP and thus succeeding to the Oval Office.
At the time, the movie seemed to resonate with both liberals and conservatives as how a President should act, for the people, and not for his own self-interests. Reitman and the cast which also included Sigourney Weaver, Charles Grodin and Ving Rhames was able to make it hilarious and touching at times, without being too sentimental. It was a modest success, but a fair cry from the juggernaut that was the first Ghostbusters.
Attempts to recreate that spark of the Ghostbusters movies with Evolution failed as people saw it as a cross between Men in Black and Ghostbusters. Reitman did produce more movies and founded The Montecito Picture Company, which went on to produce irreverent comedies like Road Trip, Eurotrip and Old School. He picked up an Oscar nomination for producing Up in the Air, directed by his son, Jason. But Reitman hadn’t directed a movie since 2014 with Draft Day.
Granted times have changed. Even on the DVD as they discussed the R-rated anthology animated movie, Heavy Metal, they realized that some of the subject matter was geared more to male fantasies about women as it had big-breasted women in most of the stories. Rumors have also persisted that Jason was cast as a student in Kindergarten Cop who kisses a girl because he hadn’t kissed a girl yet. Creepy it may be. But some fathers used to buy prostitutes for their sons. He was married since 1976 with no scandals. So, it’s easy to overlook some mild antics. Even Kirk Cameron gets criticized for his morals of refusing to kiss anyone on screen but his wife.
But usually in movies like Meatballs and Stripes, the creeps got what was coming to them in the end. Like many people, he had matured. You can see that in movies like Dave and Junior. And in most cases, younger directors came on the field and up the stakes. Todd Phillips directed a few of the movies he produced.
In many ways, it’s kind of fitting he produced Ghostbusters: Afterlife as his last movie, passing the torch to his son and younger filmmakers, since it was one of his most famous and successful movies. It was a nice way to go out with grace.
What’s your favorite Ivan Reitman movie? Please comment.