Lost And Found 21: Quick Change
Sometimes it’s tough digging for films that are not just hopefully worth the while but also has something unique that draws you to it. Building up to this chapter there were so many to pick from, even the VHS player was dusted off and used in the process. Although some of the ones may be discussed in the future, it came down to a nineties comedy remake of a French film (Hold-Up) starring everybody’s favourite deadpan funny man, Bill Murray, playing a bank robber dressed as a clown with the perfect plan but the worst getaway. It also marks the only time Murray has ever sat in the director’s chair.
Film: Quick Change
Cast: Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards and Phil Hartman
Director: Howard Franklin and Bill Murray
Writers: Jay Cronley and Howard Franklin
Originally critically-acclaimed director Jonathan Demme was going to helm the film but became unavailable and went on to direct a music video for The Neville Brothers song In the Still of the Night and Silence of the Lambs. Murray then took it upon himself to step in and replace Demme in addition to co-writing and producing the project. Murray wasn’t the only person behind the camera however; he shared a credit as co-director/writer with Howard Franklin who at the time found some success as a writer for films such as Romancing the Stone and In the Name of the Rose. The movie was a directorial debut for both and to this day is Murray’s only director effort. Many interviews and quotes from Murray state it was best he took on director duties because word was beginning to spread around Hollywood that he was difficult to work with, because he finds the shooting process tiring and likes to have fun on set by carrying out antics and pranking film crews to keep himself occupied.
In addition to the problematic rep, studios were not flocking to fund the daring script. At the time Quick Change was considered more of an art house vehicle, audiences were more familiar with Murray playing silly slapstick characters as opposed to a down on his luck thief who decides to rob a ban. Murray’s character Grimm hates New York and Murray soon began to realise how much art imitates life when he started filming, director duties were not as smooth sailing as both had hoped. Murray was forced to use his own money as studios did not believe in the duo directors filming choices skills and filming in New York proved to be hell with threats/rising tension from frustrated residents, a heat wave among many other factors. Was it all worth it though? Pretty much.
The plot is Grimm (Bill Murray) is a disgruntled city planner ignored by just about anybody even when dressed as a colourful clown on the New York subway. He attempts to rob a bank but is not taken seriously due to his outfit until he brandishes a loaded gun and gets a fitting response. With the help of his dedicated girlfriend Phyllis Potter (Geena Davis) and childlike best friend Loomis (Randy Quaid) the trio leave the bank successfully with one million dollars fooling even veteran Chief Walt Rotzinger (Jason Robards) who has already been made a fool of numerous times in the press. Everything goes to plan except the journey to the airport which proves to be the most difficult aspect of the heist as they run into fussy bus drivers, mobsters, fellow criminals and Rotzinger’s blind dedication that all keep them from flying off to their ideal holiday spot in the Caribbean. They must find a way to get out of a city that seems to be doing everything in its oblivious power to prevent them from escaping.
Quick Change is a film I always remember from my childhood. At the time of its release Murray was one of my favourite actors, along with this film Ghostbusters and Scrooge to me he could do no wrong. The box-office however thought otherwise. Although it received some solid reviews Quick Change is still only familiar to die-hard Murray fans. Which is rather unfortunate, as it's one of the best comedies of the nineties and arguably Murray’s finest comedic role to date. Grimm is the sort of poker-faced, cynical sarcastic character Murray was born to play. His performance is terrific. What makes it so is a perfect touch of playing Grimm with a referential self-awareness of being in a film and opting out of typical character development. Instead Murray goes against type by having his own miserable fun at the expense of the idiots around him they are unknowingly preventing him from getting away with a large sum of money. In other hands and with a different casting choice this notion may have come as a surprise to regular Murray fans when it was released although now one could revel in his comedic frustration. Luckily Murray is a more than capable actor whose self-aware smugness is not offensive but rather relatable due to the funny situations he is put in the film by the writers and there knack for original scenarios for the actors to excel in.
The film does occasionally suffer from being stereotype heavy at times with one-dimensional mobsters and non-English speaking cab drivers initially come across as lazy sub characters. However, these are elevated by the inspired performances of the reliable cast including amazing characters actors such as Tony Shalhoub, Stanley Tucci and Kurtwood Smith. After asking for directions from a clueless pair of construction workers the trio become lost in a city they are not familiar with so attempt to change their clothes at Phyllis’s old apartment to fool and cops that may identify them. They are confronted by the new gun-toting yuppie tenants in one of highlights of the film that features the late great Phil Hartman, who some readers may know for his vocal talents he showcased in The Simpsons. With the inclusion of the middle-class moving in, construction work taking place and overall demolished city setting of the film, it can be implied that these fine touches were suggesting these urban, deserted areas were destined to change at the hands of gentrification anytime soon and the trio want to leave before it is too late.
Geena Davis shines as his Grimm’s rather casual girlfriend mainly attracted to the fact that he is an intelligent bank robber and gets a real kick out of it. Quaid as Loomis is rather underused and acts as their man-child son trying to do what he usually thinks is right but usually makes a mistake and has to be told off by ‘mommy and daddy’ so that he can ultimately be able to socially function like a normal adult.
Overall Quick Change is a smarter than your average comedy triumph with a great mixture of a well thought out bank heist and then a comedy of errors to see out anti-heroes come up with the wittiest ways of escaping, think Martin Scorsese’s After Hours meets Spike lee’s Inside man. Hopefully Murray decides to direct again.