From The Parallax Review Vaults: The Dream Team (1989)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of The Dream Team was for the “On Cable” section of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

Now Playing on Encore Wam

Oh, those wacky mentally ill people! I swear, the hijinks they get into!

That is the extent of the comedic viewpoint in The Dream Team. Quite frankly, if we’re being honest, it’s the only way Hollywood studios feel comfortable with approaching the subject of mental illness. I understand that audiences don’t want to see a realistic depiction of the pain and suffering that comes with a person’s mind turning against them. I understand that there’s no financial incentive in making that movie, but do they have to trot out the subject as fodder for mediocre comedies? Apparently, the answer is yes. With as many times as mentally ill characters have popped up as comic relief over the years, I’m starting to wonder if there is a handbook for development executives that includes the rule: funny crazy people are box office gold.

The film follows four patients at a psychiatric hospital. Michael Keaton plays Billy Caufield (apparently dropping the L makes this a subtle reference), a pathological liar given to fits of violent rage. Henry Sikorsky (Christopher Lloyd) is a paranoid schizophrenic who feels the need to keep everything in his life neat, tidy, and organized. He also enjoys impersonating a psychiatrist. Jack McDermott (Peter Boyle) is a former advertising executive who had a breakdown and now believes he is Jesus Christ reincarnated. Albert Ianuzzi (Stephen Furst) is a bundle of nerves who only speaks in lines he hears on TV, particularly phrases heard on broadcasts of Yankees games.

They are all under the care of Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris, who has played so many doctors, he might as well have M.D. after his name), a psychiatrist who has made progress with the men by taking them off their medications and putting them together in group therapy. As a reward for their progress, he takes them all into the city for a baseball game, only to be separated from the group when he witnesses a murder committed by two crooked cops (Philip Bosco and James Remar). The cops beat up Weitzman and are set to kill him when they get interrupted by a man yelling out his window, forcing them to flee. The rest of the film concerns the characters from the therapy group navigating the streets of New York as they try to find Weitzman and save him from the crooked cops intent on finishing him off.

If that sounds like a lot of plot for a throwaway studio comedy, that’s because it is. And that’s one of the main problems of the film. Once I had resigned myself to the fact that the characters with mental problems were going to be used as comedic props, I expected the gags to at least be funny. Unfortunately, the filmmakers are more concerned with moving the plot forward than bringing the funny. At least two more attempts are made on Weitzman’s life, the group finds they are accused of trying to murder Weitzman, and Billy spends an inordinate amount of time pursuing his ex-girlfriend, Riley (Lorraine Bracco). The numerous plot machinations crush any semblance of comedy.

Another problem with the film is the way the script requires the characters to act like clichéd lunatics in the “comedy” scenes, but then act like normal people capable of interacting with the general population when the plot requires it. Even in the scenes when they are supposed to be showing symptoms, they fail to exhibit the proper symptoms for their conditions. Billy is described as living in fantasy worlds, but he never seems to believe his own stories. He just gets a kick out of lying to people. And while much is made of how dangerously violent he is, the most we see of this is just Keaton doing his best crazy-eyed look of menace. Henry is supposed to be a paranoid schizophrenic, but with his need to constantly emulate authority figures and pick up trash, he comes across as an obsessive-compulsive with a fairly decent grip on reality. I could go on and on about how poorly researched and portrayed the mental problems of these characters turned out, but there’s no point in giving so much thought to such a trifle of a film.

In many ways, I’m more angered by the cynicism behind the decision to green light this story. The film itself is nothing to get that worked up about. It’s pure mediocrity at its laziest. If not for the competent work by a good cast that is better than the material, it would be nearly unwatchable.

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