Million Dollar Mystery is one of those movies that you would come by in the aisles Blockbuster or Hollywood Video 20-25 years ago and think, “Oh, yeah, I remember that movie. Wasn’t there a gimmick to win money.”
Producer Dino De Laurentiis said he got the idea when he observed a long line of people waiting to buy lottery tickets. Initially, he thought they were instead to see a movie or buy tickets to a concert. So, somehow, he worked out a deal between his fledging production and distribution company De Laurentiss Entertainment Group (DEG) with Glad products to sponsor a contest to find $1 million hidden somewhere in America. The plot of this movie involves several people searching all over Arizona to find $1 million which have been hidden in close proximity to bridges. You’d think the Arizona tourism department also sponsored this movie since a good section is set and filmed at Lake Havasu City where the original London Bridge was relocated. But the department must’ve read the script and said no way.
In the 1980s, Tom Bosley was a spokesperson for Glad trash bags. So, he has a cameo in Mystery as Sidney Preston, a White House aide, who has hidden about $4 million of illegal monies all over certain locations. (And yes, in one scene, they do find $1 million in a plastic trash bag submerged in a fish aquarium. I guess this was to show the durability of their product.) On the run, Preston stops at a restaurant operated by siblings Tugger (Royce D. Applegate) and Dotty (Pam Mattheson) and eats a bowl of chili which causes him to have a heart attack.
As he’s dying, he asks everyone in the diner if they want to be rich and tells them he’s hidden the money in or near bridges. In the restaurant is a family, Stuart and Barbara Briggs (Rick Overton and Mona Lyden) and their obnoxious tween twerp of a son, Howie (Douglas Emerson). There’s also some nerdy newlyweds Rollie and Lollie (Eddie Deezen and Wendy Sherman) who are more eager to have sex than find $1 million. And an amateur singer, Crush (Daniel McDonald) and back-up singers, Charity (Penny Baker), Faith (Tawny Fere) and Hope (LaGena Hart) are with him.
As they hit the road toward El Puente, Ariz., Tugger and Dotty meet a weird nature warden, Slaughter Buzzard (Rich Hall) and the Briggs find help from professional wrestlers Awful Abdul (Hard Boiled Haggerty) and Bad Boris (Bob Schott), who Howie likes. And Crush and the women find themselves in jail and running from law enforcement officers Gretchen (Gail Neely) and Quinn (Kevin Pollak) who eventually help them in their pursuit of money.
The problem is when they find the first $1 million, they drop the suitcase from the bridge and it all blows away in the wind. You get the idea that each time they find another $1 million something is going to happen to happen to it. It does produce one of the few jokes when they accidentally put the aboved mention plastic bag of money on a huge shredder machine. Then, it’s accidentally turned on and shreds it to pieces. One character acts why someone would have such a huge machine in their own home to which another responds that Preston worked for the government.
Another funny gag is when Tugger and Dotty try to seek help from a private investigator only to find themselves walking into a black and white film noir office. Other than that, the rest of the movie just doesn’t work well. Most of the characters are so one-dimensional you really don’t care what happens to them. In pursuit are two government agents, Fred (Mark Dryden) and Bob (Jamie Alcott) who are bungling idiots themselves.
There could have been some good commentary on the greediness of the 1980s and consumerism. And this was released on this date, June 12, 1987 when the Iran-Contra Affair had just become news. Seeing that Preston was a government official, there could have been a joke about how corrupt the current presidential administration was at the time. But this movie plays most things lightly with car chases and silly sight gags.
In the end, the movie would be notorious for the death of stuntman/actor Dar Robinson who died on Nov. 21, 1986 performing a motorcycle stunt. Also, Million Dollar Mystery didn’t even make $1 million at the box office, coming in just at $989,000 against a $10 million budget. It was one of the many flops and bombs that ended the DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group.
It doesn’t help that the cast is mostly forgettable. Deezen had played in a similar movie, Midnight Madness, but that movie was actually fun to watch despite its problems. Overton and Pollak would later appear as brownies in the fantasy movie Willow. And Hall became more famous for his Sniglet books which were about regular items that don’t appear in any dictionary but should. I get the impression that Bosley worked the least he could on this movie and only did it because of the promtional tie-in.
And there presents the movie’s biggest problem. You’d think the idea to get people to see a movie would to put clues in it so people would go see the movie time and time again. But the powers that be decided that was too complicated and anyone who purchased Glad products received an entry application. Intended to be an updated version of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, it’s not good when you have to bribe people to buy a movie ticket on the off-chance you can win money.
However, they must have learned from the failed Burger King Where’s Herb campaign, they made it clear the money was really hidden, but people had to guess which bridge where it hypothetically could be hidden. As the movie ends with people being told to find the remaining $1 million. It was later revealed to be hidden in the bridge of the nost on the Statue of Liberty. A 14-year-old Bakersfield, Calif. resident Alesia Lenae Jones guessed it correctly. Actually thousands of people guessed correctly, but her name was chosen out of a random lottery.
What do you think? Please comment.