Eric Idle once said of Dan Aykroyd that he was capable of being part of Monty Python troupe. Born in Ottawa, Aykroyd went on to be a part of Second City both in Toronto and Chicago. At 23, he was hired as a writer of Saturday Night Live, but also added to the cast. Through his run on SNL, he was able to make some amazing characters such as Beldar Conehead, part of the Festrunk Brothers (Wild and Crazy Guys) with Steve Martin, and even a parody of Julia Childs.
Naturally, Hollywood would come calling. The character of Daniel Simpson Day, aka D-Day, in National Lampoon’s Animal House was based on and written for Aykroyd. He then went on to hit paydirt with John Belushi as Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers. They had a hit album and movie and Aykroyd began to branch out. He appeared in Trading Spaces with Eddie Murphy, Spies Like Us with Chevy Chase and one of his biggest hits, Ghostbusters, with Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. As a side note, it’s rumored at one time, Aykroyd was doing more cocaine than Belushi but was able to control it better.
Toward the end of the 1980s, Aykroyd was cast as Boolie Werthan, son of Daisey Werthan (Jessica Tandy) in Driving Miss Daisy. It was an odd bit of casting but one that paid off with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The Oscar-winning movie made over $145 million at the box office for Warner Brothers. So, when Aykroyd went to them with a script for what became Nothing but Trouble, they greenlit it.
However, the movie would go on to be one of the most expensive comedies ever made at the time as well as one of the biggest blunders and losses. The movie would have its origins back in Aykroyd’s SNL days when he was driving through upstate New York and was pulled over for speeding in the wee morning hours in a small town. The officer had Aykroyd follow him to the home of the Justice of the Peace for what he would call is a “kangaroo court.” Fined $50, the Justice, who had been awoken decided to put on a pot of tea and asked Aykroyd if he cared to join him. Surprised by the gesture, Aykroyd would spend about four hours visiting with him before going on his way.
The experience stuck with him throughout the 1980s when in 1987, friend and movie producer Robert K. Weiss had fractured a rib. So he asked Aykroyd and his brother, Peter, to accompany him to a movie to get his mind off things but he didn’t want to see a comedy because he was afraid of laughing would hurt. So, they went to see Hellraiser instead. Aykroyd would later say the audience was laughing at a lot on the screen, so he thought of making a horror-comedy. Aykroyd was also saying he had a dream one time of his friend and fellow comic, John Candy, as a woman that he found funny.
Peter, who has a small role in the movie, drafted a story and Aykroyd went to work on a script for a movie for six months titled Git and later Road to Ruin. He described it as a cross between Beetlejuice and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Warner Bros. had just had a hit with Beetlejuice, distributing in association with The Geffen Company, and was more interested. However, not many directors were interested in it. Aykroyd had just been in The Great Outdoors and asked John Hughes, who didn’t want to direct scripts he didn’t write. John Landis who had directed Aykroyd in Trading Places, Spies Like Us, The Blues Brothers and Into the Night was approached but turned the offer down, reportedly saying he disliked the script.
Landis would later comment in an interview that Aykroyd had difficulty writing scripts, saying he had a lot of creative ideas but there usually wasn’t a coherent story. Ramis had bascially rewrote part of Aykrod’s Ghostbusters script which had them jumping through different time frames to battle paranormal activity.
With Candy interested, Aykroyd convinced the studio to allow him to direct and play dual roles of the lead actor Chris Thorne and main villain Judge Alvin Valkenheiser. Yet, Warner Bros. didn’t want Aykroyd as Chris, but instead went after Chevy Chase, who didn’t like the script but agreed to do it as a favor to Aykroyd and a big check.
Production began in the spring of 1990 in Los Angeles with a huge $40 million budget, which would be about $90 million in 2022 dollars. The movie production was considered a dream for production/set designers and special effects artists as they were able to use the movie’s budget to acquire as many set pieces and props from all over the area. It’s been reported that a train set that is used during a dinner scene that delivers dinner condiments cost about $25,000.
But some people felt the production wasn’t being reigned in as much as it should. Warner Bros. was more concerned with their adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, which was a problematic set. The movie starring Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and F. Murray Abraham, among others was budget at a bigger $47 million, which would be about $107 million today. And production was taking place in L.A. as well as New York City.
Both Bonfire and Nothing, which went into production under the title Trickhouse, were both intended to be released during the Fall/Christmas holiday season of 1990. So, time was a factor. But there would be another factor to Nothing but Trouble – the content.
Reports have indicated that Aykroyd was hoping to make an R-rated horror-comedy with over the top violence and gore thrown in with comedy. Judge Valkenheiser, who claims to be 106-years-old, has a way of dealing with all those who come before him – he sentences them to death in a gruesome fashion. They fall down a slide through a trap door onto a fast amusement ride train where they are dumped out on a conveybelt leading them into Mr. Bonestripper which tears their flesh off and spits their bones out of an exhaust port.
Apparently, it became obvious that the movie was going to be geared more to Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Beetlejuice. There’s even been some indication that Valkenheiser and his grandson and granddaughter, Dennis and Eldona (both Candy), and others are eating hot dogs made from human flesh. Even though Chris, a wealthy financial publisher and his lawyer friend, Diane Lightson (Demi Moore), are spared a ride on Mr. Bonestripper for running a stop sign, some drug dealers (one of them played by Daniel Baldwin in an earlier role) apprehended by Dennis aren’t so lucky.
Part of the problem with the movie is that the beginning before they even get before Valkenheiser in the town of Valkenvania, N.J. isn’t funny to begin with. For reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, Chris just meets Diane on an elvator at their posh NYC apartment complex and he agrees to take her the next day to Atlantic City to consult a client. She comes to him because he has a BMW. So, someone she just met in an elevator, she goes to to ask to borrow a car. But Chris agrees to take her because he wants to get a piece of her. As they’re preparing to leave they are interrupted by the Brazilian siblings, Fausto and Renalda Squiriniszu (Taylor Negron and Bertilda Damas), who want to go along in his fancy car ride.
Chris takes a detour off the New Jersey Turnpkie and that’s how they end up in Valkenvania. Then when the patrol car driven by Dennis attempts a stop, they try to outrun him. Why? It makes no sense. Even worse, all the yuppies behave in an snotty, smarmy demeanor, it’s hard to sympathize with them especially when they are taken before Valkenheiser who behaves with a goofy senility between Grandpa Simpson and Mr. Magoo.
None of this is funny. When we see Candy as Eldonna, it’s just Candy in a dress with lipstick and a wig. It’s nowhere near funny. I think the problem is Candy appeared in drag both in Armed and Dangerous and Who’s Harry Crumb that someone thought he should make it a trilogy. Aykroyd should know neither of those previous movies were big hits with the critics or the box office. And Candy as Dennis is the voice of reason, meaning Candy is playing the straight man. In a movie like The Great Outdoors, it works. Here it isn’t because Candy is really given no dialogue to have fun with and just reacts. I also think, as others have noted, the movie was heavily edited, and at one point, Dennis just disappears mostly from the final act without much reason. It’s obvious from the start he’s not too satisfied with Valkenheiser’s way of doing things and his grandfather criticizes him, but it’s surprising someone would just run away with two people he just met hours earlier.
If Candy is underused, then Chase just phones it in. Or should I say just drops the phone receiver and lets the other person talk. Since Chris is supposed to be the one we’re sympathizing with, we should care what happens to him. But we don’t. Part of it is because Chase hated the script and did it just for money and you can see his disdain for the whole project in his role. But then again, Aykroyd’s script is just so terrible. At one point, they bring up a subplot of Chris marrying Eldona.
As for Moore, she at least tries to do her best reacting to everything around her. But most of it is just filthy set pieces. At one point, she comes into contact with two obese, dim-witted semi-naked greased up adult-size babies, Bobo (Aykroyd) and Lil’Debbul (John Davekis.) According to http://www.imdb.com, this is Davekis’ second (and final) film role. He was in Spies Like Us and is credited as a hardware consultant in Ghostbusters. Either Davekis is a good friend of the Aykroyds or they couldn’t find any other actor whiling to appear in the role.
To say everything looks disgusting on scene is an understatement. The Aykroyds seem to think the more disgusting and unsetting something looks the funnier it is. At a few times, the judge’s nose resembles a penis. The dinner scene is obviously inspired by Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but aside from making it weirder, there’s nothing this movie accomplishes.
Worse, we have the obnoxious Miss Purdah (Valri Bromfield), another Valkenvania police officer, who is more Fascist and believes in the judge’s way of law. Bromfield horribly overacts. She’s a member of Second City and I feel she was hired because of her early days with Aykroyd and Candy.
But if you’re wondering why the judge acts the way he does, he’s upset over his family being screwed over by bankers many decades earlier, which is why he takes a despise toward Chris. Apparently Valkenvania sits on a coal mine but the judge’s mansion/courthouse is in the middle of a junkyard as well as crazy outside scenery where Chris comments there’s a lot of toasters in one place. The rooms are bonkers. The bed mattresses rotate horizontally with people in them. There’s a closet full of dolls. There’s a slide in a crawlspace. Then, there’s a trapdoor in which Chris, Diane, Fausto and Renalda are dropped into a huge pool of rubber ducks.
Aykroyd seems more interested in the idea of having something in a movie rather than having a reason for it being there. And Warner Bros. executives probably felt the same. When he showed them the movie, now under the titled Valkenvania, they reportedly didn’t like it. And by now, they were dealing with bigger problems from Bonfire production, which also starred Moore’s husband at the time, Willis. So, they did what most studios do when they feel they have a bomb on their hand – they shelved it.
Moving the release date from the fall 1990 season to the middle of winter 1991 was almost a death sentence. At this time, most movies released in the winter months were considered duds. Also, the title was changed to Nothing but Trouble, which sounds more like a screwball comedy. Warner Bros was trying to make it appear like Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein or like Chase’s earlier movie Modern Problems. The judge, himself, comes off as a goofy character in the trailer and there’s no mention of Bobo and Lil’Debbul nor Mr. Bonestripper.
The movie poster along resembles Beetlejuice. Even looking at the poster below, you wouldn’t really think it would have giant mutant babies and people supposedly eating the flesh of drug dealers ground up in sausage links.
Many people probably thought it was a silly comedy like Beetlejuice, but they stayed away. The movie made only about a fifth of its budget with $8.4 million at the box office. It could be the movie was eclipsed by the more popular and way better The Silence of the Lambs, released the same weekend, which was way scarier as well as having some humor that is not seen in Nothing but Trouble. Probably the only good thing you can say about this movie is that if features Tupac Shakur in his first film role as a member of The Digital Underground who find themselves jamming out with the judge.
In the end, Aykyord himself won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor and never directed a movie again. Chase’s career suffered too as he decided to do something worse than this movie, which was The Chevy Chase Show two years later. Candy was able to rebound with roles in more serious JFK and Only the Lonely as well as Rookie of the Year and Cool Runnings before his death in 1994 at the age of 43. Moore had a lot of ups and downs throughout the 1990s with highs like G.I. Jane and Disclosure and lows like Striptease.
Surprisingly, some people have different opinions on the movie in the last 30 years. Many online comments are more favorable. Yet, I’d have to say different strokes for different folks. The problem with the movie is Aykroyd has a lot of creative ideas but doesn’t know how to use them. Worse, he doesn’t understand what “Kill your darlings” means. Maybe less is more.
What do you think? Please comment.