by Ryan Arthur
Brewster's Millions exists in the same movie universe as Coming To America and Trading Places, where wealth - or the lack of it - is driving the plot. With Coming To America, it's Prince Akeem living among the common people of America. With Trading Places, it's the reversal of fortunes Billy Ray and Louis. For Montgomery Brewster, it's very similar to Trading Places (which comes as no surprise, as both screenplays were written by Herschel Weingrod and Timothy Harris): ordinary joe comes into contact with an assload of cash...but there's a twist.Richard Pryor is Montgomery Brewster, a pitcher for the Hackensack Bulls. He's had a cup of coffee with the majors, but along with his sidekick Spike (John Candy), he's content to bum around the minors. That doesn't stop him from hoping for something more. After a barroom brawl, Monty and Spike are booted from the Bulls.
"Ten million, ten million, ten million dollars!"
Fortune smiles on Monty when he learns of an inheritance from Uncle Rupert (Hume Cronyn): he'll be given $30 million to do with as he pleases for 30 days. The catch is this: he can't have any assets at the end of the 30 days. He can spend it, gamble small amounts of it, give some away, whatever; but at the end of the month, he can have only the clothes on his back that he walked in with. Do that, and he'll receive his real inheritance: $300 million. He's given an accountant to keep track of everything, but he can tell no one about what he's doing or why he's doing it or he'll forfeit the inheritance to the attorneys that are the executors of the will.
Brewster's Millions was released about a week before my beloved Fletch, and is one of the movies from my younger years (much like Fletch) that I loved on first view and can pick up at any point and still get into. Director Walter Hill was three years removed from making Eddie Murphy a bona fide movie star in 48 Hrs., and Pryor was pretty much at his peak of popularity.
In his prime, Richard Pryor was angry and vulgar and fantastically funny. He talked shit like no one else. But as Monty Brewster, or in just about any movie he made in the early 80's, like The Toy, he was a watered-down version of himself. He wasn't dangerous. He was Eddie Murphy before Eddie Murphy was (or more precisely, what Eddie Murphy has become - kid-safe and family friendly). It's all the more heartbreaking in seeing the man now, his body ravaged by MS.
The plot is based on an old novel by the same name, and has been made into a film five times before, with the amounts of the inheritance increasing over the years. Hill doesn't do much with it: Brewster goes from situation to situation in getting rid of the cash, usually at the disbelief of Spike and Monty's appointed accountant Angela Drake (Lonette McKee, who doesn't provide too much of a romantic interest). Sometimes he makes money back, making the people around him happy, but Monty, who knows the deal, gets pissed. That's when you occasionally see flashes of the angry Pryor. He's still restrained, but you can see he wants to really cut loose. Monty gets creative in the ways that he disposes of his millions. That's one of the places that Brewster's Millions shines.
Monty's smart. He's an everyman, and just wants to play ball in the big leagues. When he's given the inheritance, he's got to be crafty and get rid of it, literally by himself, since his friends and advisors try to prevent him from spending foolishly or literally throw it away. But Pryor plays Monty like a man who knows what he's doing. He's continually dealt setbacks in his plan, but always comes back with neat ways around them. He's not stupid: in one scene, Monty buys a million dollar collectable stamp. The attorney's scoff, thinking that the stamp presents a sizable asset, which of course is against the rules. That changes when they realize Monty has sent them a postcard...with the stamp (now cancelled, and therefore now worthless) on it. Classic. The script - and therefore Monty - is actually pretty smart that way.
Another bright spot is John Candy. He's the sidekick, and he's just about perfect in the role. There are echoes of his performance in Splash, as Spike is completely loyal to Monty, trying hard to watch out for him and his best interests, which ultimately works against Monty. I've never been the biggest Candy fan, but he really played the part well here.
Stephen Collins (TV's 7th Heaven, plus Star Trek: The Motion Picture) is Warren, the antagonist for Monty, in two ways: he works for the attorneys and is privvy to the whole plot of what Monty has to do, and is also engaged to Angela. He'd be a better villain if Pryor and McKee had better chemistry, but it's a foregone conclusion who she'll end up with in the end. Collins is a fine actor, and a bit too nice of a guy to try and play it as the heavy. McKee plays it straight, and as mentioned, doesn't have much romantic chemistry with Pryor. She does alright. Cronyn's a hoot in his brief time onscreen, and there are some nice smaller turns from actors like Pat Hingle, Rick Moranis and Joe Grifasi.
Does Walter Hill do for Richard Pryor what he did for Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs.? Not really; Pryor was already well known as a comedian and actor. Brewster's Millions did make him more accessible to audiences, but it cost him his hard comedic edge.Maybe my judgment's clouded by sentimental attachment to the movie, but I still like Brewster's Millions. Pryor, despite being pretty restrained, is genuinely funny here, as is Candy. The romantic aspect between Monty and Angela could've been better, but the comedy pulls it through.
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originally posted: 09/06/03 12:09:52